READER COMMUNICATION QUESTION: Meryl, my manager and I exchanged several emails about budgets for an event. Then he asked me to research hotel prices in the area, which I did. I cc’d a contractor on the hotel information, forgetting that the budget discussion was in the email. My manager replied saying “We don’t send budget information to our contractors.” I fired back, “Oops. I missed that. Sorry!” He emailed back, “‘Oops’ is not an appropriate response.”
I responded by noting that I had apologized, and that I had forgotten about the email trail, and if there was a better reply, please inform me. How else could I have replied?
MERYL RESPONDS: His response sounds scolding and parental, and the natural reaction to accusation is to get defensive. What if you started by telling him he was right instead? What could you have sincerely followed that up with? ..
If I were the manager, unless it was a huge error or you had history of doing this, “oops” would be appropriate. For him it wasn’t. He needed something else. You might have said,
You’re right. Oops might suggest that I don’t take what happened seriously. I do. I regret my error and it won’t happen again.
That is true, and doesn’t require you to drink the poisoned idea that you did something universally inappropriate. If you respond this way over a period of time and he still sounds scolding I’d suggest addressing the tone, but for now you both would do well to cut each other some slack. I suggest you take the lead on doing that.