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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Unfairly Reprimanded

Dear Sue: I work in a Customer Service environment that is very high paced. I encountered a problem recently that caused some chaos with one of my accounts. Although I would take responsibility if I was the cause of the mistake, the problem had nothing to do with me.

My customer sent in some incorrect information. It should have been caught, but wasn’t because the person working with her at the time had not been trained to catch the error. I have a great relationship with this customer, and when I discovered the error I thought I should be forthright by bringing the matter to their attention. I wanted to let them know what happened, and assure them that I would correct the mistake as soon as possible. I sent a copy of my correspondence to the individual who made the errors, and to both of our bosses.

When the individual who made the errors received my e-mail she made a point of thanking me for informing her. Unfortunately, our bosses reacted differently. Neither one appreciated what I had done, nor was I prepared for the confrontation that followed. I was called into a conference room and reprimanded by both her boss and mine. I was told that I should never send an e-mail like the one I sent without seeking management approval first. My loyalty was questioned and I was reprimanded for blaming the company for the mistake and making us all look bad.

I feel was treated unfairly, and scolded for trying to inform my customer and prevent a bigger problem. In an attempt to make some sense out of what happened, I asked several friends who work outside of the company to read the e-mail I sent and give me their honest opinion. Everyone has told me that the e-mail was well-written and that it was clear I brought the errors to everyone’s attention in order to correct the problem. It was the most professional solution and the customer needed to be informed.

I have a review coming up and I want to bring this up for discussion, but don’t want it to turn into another confrontation. How do I bring this up in my review?

 – Trying to provide good service

Sue Says: Be clear about your objective; what is your intent in bringing the situation up to your boss? If your goal is to convince him that he was wrong and receive an apology, it’s unlikely it will happen and you’re probably setting yourself up for another confrontation. If you’d like to gain a better understanding as to why he found your letter so upsetting in order to determine how to handle similar situations in the future, you may have better luck.

Although it is not too late to inquire, I wonder why you’ve decided to wait until your review to bring this up for discussion. What stopped you from going to your boss within days of the initial confrontation to talk with him? It’s a good idea to allow enough time for everyone to calm down, but important not to avoid resolution by coming to closure after a confrontation.

There are a few things you can do to prepare for your review; however, sharing your friends’ opinions about the e-mail you sent is not one of them. I am sure your boss wouldn’t be too pleased to learn that the e-mail in question was circulating to an even broader audience than he originally thought.

What you can do is reinforce your positive attributes and contributions, in addition to reinforcing your feelings of loyalty to your customers and the company. You can tell your boss that you were troubled by his strong response while assuring him that your intention never was to make the company or anyone look bad.

To prevent any problems that may occur in the future, ask him how you should have handled the situation, and what he’d like you to do in the future if you are faced with a similar set of circumstances. Unless he is holding a grudge that he can’t let go of, he should be receptive to your desire to learn from your mistakes.

You never know how he’ll respond; perhaps by now he’ll feel he overreacted that day, but don’t count on it. What you can anticipate is to gain an understanding of his expectations and the proper procedures for dealing with customers and problems. To prevent similar problems, you need a clear understanding of what you did wrong and the knowledge to do what’s right in the future.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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