You stare unblinkingly at the computer. You just received a message from your boss demanding that everyone on your team report to your meeting space in five minutes.

woman looking up from her computer with a concerned look Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

Uh-oh, you think. You wonder if something went wrong with the big presentation to the client. Or could it be worse?

Your heart rate elevates as you head down the hall to the meeting, exchanging worried glances with your coworkers.

"We Have A Problem..."

Once everyone is gathered in the room, your boss shuts the door and says:

We have a problem. The presentation that I gave to our client yesterday was not what I expected. AND it was delivered to me too late to fix any of it. The data was incorrect, the graphics were not revised based on my comments, and there were some editing mistakes that I will not accept in a final product. I cannot continue to look bad in front of clients because of this team's sloppy work.

Boss pointing finger in an angry motion.

Who's Responsible?

Your boss continues on. "So what I want to know is...who's responsible for the screw-ups yesterday?"

worried teammates look at each other in an office setting.

Everyone looks around or down. As you consider your work on the project, another coworker speaks out, suggesting you were the one responsible for the incorrect data! Your heart drops into your stomach. Your mouth becomes dry. You look up to see your boss looking pointedly at you.

How Will You Respond?

Consider the following responses and choose the one you think is best.

Choice A You stand up, shove your chair back, and shout at your coworker, "That's not true! You worked on the data with me! It could easily be your fault!"

Flaticon Icon As the others look toward you, you shrink into your seat. "Please don't fire me! I promise I won't screw up again. I really need this job!"

Choice C You consider your coworker's comments for a moment before responding, "I refuse to participate in this conversation."

Choice D Look directly at your coworker, then say calmly to your boss, "I am willing to consider my part in this problem, but I wonder if I could get more details about the exact issues with the data?"


Which response is the best choice for this situation?

Did You Make The Right Choice?

When responding to this intense situation, consider the following.


  • Stay calm and manage your emotions.

  • Ask clarifying questions.

  • Consider the feedback from your co-worker, even if it was poorly delivered.

  • Take responsibility for anything that is true about what they said.


  • Fly off the handle.

  • Shift the blame to your coworker or anyone else.

  • Make a plan to sabotage them in the future.

  • Hope it will go away by ignoring it.

Office Space movie image with text that reads: If you could stay calm and not react, that'd be great.

After The Meeting

After responding well in the meeting, you decide to follow up with your coworker privately about the incident.

Before you begin, remember: Keep focused on "I" statements. Be brief.

Two women discussing the meeting in a followup conversation.

You begin by saying:

I felt really blindsided by your comment about my work today. I had no idea you felt that way.

Your co-worker's face forms into an ugly scowl. She says, "You never do as much work as I do. I'm always picking up your slack!"


What should you do next?

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