In business, it is impossible to never make mistakes. However, it is easy to forget that when one of your employees makes a particularly damaging mistake. You might be frustrated and tempted to yell, but doing so won’t help the situation. Here are some tips on what to say to an employee who has made a mistake:

Speak in Future Tense

A common way for business leaders to address the mistake an employee made is to ask something along the lines of “what were you thinking?” This sort of phrasing is unhelpful and is likely to make your employee feel defensive. Instead of using past-focused language, focus on the future. Try saying something along the lines of “I understand that there was (negative result). What are you going to do next time to avoid that same result?” This allows both you and your employee to focus on improving in the future and will likely dissolve any anger. 

Pause and Breathe

You might think that you will respond coolly to an employee’s mistake, but it can be difficult to do it in the moment. Reacting with your emotions first is extremely easy, but you need to be in control to get positive results out of a conversation. Before saying anything, take a deep breath in and let it out slowly. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it becomes to speak calmly when you do this.

Decide What You Want the Outcome to Be

There is power in deciding what you want to say before you have to say it. It will make it easier for you to stay focused and keep your cool. Before you talk to your employee about their mistake, decide what you want to get out of the conversation. Do you want your employee to change a certain behavior? Do you want to know what went wrong on their end? Do you want to know if you could’ve done anything to stop the mistake from happening? Consider what you want and base your language off that goal.

Use these tips when you find yourself in a challenging conversation with an employee who has made a mistake.