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Should you let your peers’ mistakes slide to teach a lesson?

by on
in Office Politics,Workplace Communication

Is it helpful to let a co-worker screw up a project to teach her a lesson? And if you think not, how do you deal with a colleague who insists on letting others make mistakes to show them the folly of their ways?

That’s what one reader recently asked on the Admin Pro Forum.

“On our admin team we have Karen, a good worker except when it comes to helping others if they haven’t met her precise expectations. Her view is that if people don’t follow procedures to the letter, then their problems should be ignored to teach them a lesson, even if this means a deadline is missed, a report goes out incorrectly or a very minor mistake that could easily be fixed is left to become a bigger one through her inaction. I know she has a point about showing people the need for order, but aren’t we here to help those we work with above all things?” — Christine, operations clerk.

Readers offered their take on the issue.

“If I were the one giving the instructions on how the work should be done, I would assume it is up to me to see that the final product is complete and accurate,” said Vivian. “If it is not, it re­­flects on me and my leadership skills.”

Tara pointed out that missed deadlines and incorrect reports can be cred­­ibility killers and reflect poorly on the entire organization.

Although she understood Karen’s frustration, Joyce disagreed with the lack of action.

“Let a person close to Karen tell her that not acting on the obvious is passive-aggressive behavior, which takes away from all the wonderful things she does,” Joyce said.

“Even though Karen may mean well, she should never choose to miss a deadline,” said Diane. “Why not just talk to the person, and ask her if you can assist her to get the work done accurately and on time?”

Rita said that Karen is missing the point of being a team player by ig­­nor­­ing mistakes. “People don’t learn from their mistakes if they are never told they’ve made a mistake,” she said.

Mark said he understood Karen’s actions. “Why should I spend my time fixing something that, if you followed instructions, wouldn’t need to be fixed? … If people repeatedly do this, expecting me to repeatedly give up my time to fix it, I don’t see this as teamwork.”

He added, though, that explaining the mistakes people are making usually leads to better accuracy and fewer problems.

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