When to Speak Up and When to Stay Quiet

Is your colleague providing incorrect information to clients? Elaine Varelas offers advice on what you should do.

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –Boston.com

Q: I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all, but I sometimes overhear my coworkers giving incorrect information to colleagues and clients alike. Is it better to interject with a correct answer but risk embarrassing my colleagues and making our team look like we’re not on the same page? Or keep my mouth shut, let the wrong information go, and let my colleague and team save face?

A: Getting the correct information to clients is the reason you are there. If someone is giving incorrect information, the ideal option is to carefully and professionally interject with the correct answer. If you hear a conversation with inaccurate information, you can say something like, “Jonah, if I could interrupt…I actually just worked on a similar issue, and I discovered that the preferred process is to do X, Y, and Z.” When done politely and non-judgmentally, this kind of interjection allows you to provide the right answer without embarrassing or belittling your colleague in any way.

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Providing the wrong information to a client is never a good thing, and allowing someone to do that is just as bad. Remedying that situation trumps all else. You may want to measure the magnitude of the misinformation in your response—take into account that a mistake was made but perhaps you can address it later. The potential negative impact on the person or business should be the main factor guiding how you handle the situation.

The challenge of correcting a colleague is, as you mentioned, making sure you aren’t coming across as a know-it-all. Is your understanding of the correct information accurate and how do you know? Are you fully aware of the nuances of the situation that might have altered what the “correct” information is? If you’ve been at the organization long enough and are confident in your understanding of the processes under any circumstance, you should be looking into developmental opportunities you could provide to help train your colleagues. This is the real issue beneath your situation. Individually correcting the entire staff on a daily basis will do nothing to improve the problem or create a collaborative culture, so your goal should be figuring out how to share your institutional knowledge and educate the people around you.

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If your efforts at correcting your colleagues are done professionally and don’t place blame, you shouldn’t worry about offending your coworker. Present the information educationally, acknowledging the situation’s complexity, and after the incident is handled, discuss the potential lack of training around the specific topic. However, if your belief is that no one can do a good enough job, you’re at the wrong company or the training function isn’t up to par. Whatever the case, remaining respectful of your colleagues, even as you correct them, is crucial.

If you’ve noticed a trend of misinformation, this might be a good opportunity to have a team meeting. Come to agreement on how everyone should handle hearing misinformation and what items you cannot let slide. If there are specific areas where there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation, you will know where to focus your alignment efforts in future training.