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How to tell your boss you made a mistake and move on

Even the most diligent employees can make mistakes at work, or have to take ownership of problems they technically didn't cause. The following four tips can help you determine how to approach your boss like a true professional:

1. Choose your timing
While it's important to let your boss know about urgent mistakes at work as soon as possible, you want to ensure you will have her full attention and enough time to explain the details. Request a quick, private, in-person meeting with your manager. If you work at different locations, suggest a Skype call or Web conference. A face-to-face meeting, even virtually, is a more effective way to communicate serious mistakes at work than by email or a phone call.

2. Know your audience
How to approach your boss with news about mistakes at work may depend on his communication and leadership style. If he's the analytical type, you may be able to cut straight to the chase, spell out the problem, offer up a range of solutions and get back to work. But if he's more collaborative, you may need to give more background on what happened and why, and then work with him to find a solution.

3. Answer honestly
When talking to your manager about mistakes at work, be prepared for questions — lots of them. She'll likely want to know how it happened, your role in the event and who else might be involved. Be direct and respond with facts. Avoid making excuses, justifications or stories. Take responsibility for miscalculations and oversights.

4. Be a problem solver
Bad news is always easier to accept when a path to resolution is clear. Make a timeline of events so you and your manager can troubleshoot what went wrong, where and when. Then, outline possible next steps.

For example, you might tell your boss: "Because of X and Y, client Z is unhappy with the results. But I've discussed with my team how to make things right with the client, and I'd like to share those ideas with you." End the conversation with an agreed-upon action plan to ensure that everyone understands what to do to solve the problem.

It's never easy to take ownership of mistakes at work, and it's tough to know just how to approach your boss when things go wrong. But it's best to make your manager aware of issues before they snowball and do more damage.

Even in urgent situations, a well-considered approach to breaking bad news can help you have a constructive discussion with your boss and, perhaps, earn more respect for your professionalism and resilience.

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