4 Ways to (Politely) Say 'That's Not My Fault' at Work

Annoyed woman in meeting


Kayla Heisler
Kayla Heisler1.16k

Getting blamed for something that isn’t your fault at work can be a frustrating and extremely precarious situation. As is true when navigating the aftermath of actually making a mistake on the job, the way you handle being accused of messing up when you didn’t can greatly impact your work reputation. Depending on the parameters surrounding your particular situation, there are a few different phrases you can use to clear your name without pushing fellow coworkers under the bus after being incorrectly accused. 

1. “I wasn’t aware of that—thank you for letting me know.”

Being new on a job or adjusting to a new role in a company can be difficult. Before you gain experience, to a certain degree, you’re a the mercy of whoever is in charge of showing you the ropes. Regardless of how careful a trainer or supervisor is, chances are they'll overlook one or two things while filling you in. When this causes a major mix-up, let your boss know the issue was caused by insufficient information and not inattention on your part.

For example, imagine you're new to a job, and one of your responsibilities is to manage conference room reservations. You're sitting at your desk when your boss storms in and begins reprimanding you for letting the outreach department use the room at the same time that the monthly executive meeting is scheduled. When you were trained, no one mentioned anything about this regular meeting. Rather than stating outright that the error wasn’t your fault, respond by saying, “I wasn’t aware that executives had a standing reservation. Thank you for letting me know. Where can I find a more complete list of standing reservations so that this doesn’t happen again in the future?”

2. “The reason why I did that this way is…”

If you do something a that differs from the usual protocol because you were instructed to or because you really believe your way is a better option, explaining your process may alert someone else to a potential error which could save your team trouble down the line. You can provide someone with additional information without coming off as  presumptuous by explaining your process to them. 

For instance, if your supervisor chastises you for handing in an invoice on a Tuesday because your department only turns paperwork into the finance office on Thursdays, they may not know that the the director of finance asked you to hand in your work early since their office manager will be on vacation. Explicitly stating your reasoning can help clear up confusion.

3. “Could we discuss this further in a team meeting?”

Passing blame directly to another person can make you look like you aren’t a team player or like you are willing to dodge responsibility to save yourself. By allowing the issue to be raised in front of multiple people, you give the person who actually caused the problem the chance to own up to it. If they still refuse, at least they are made aware of their issue, so they can avoid making the same mistake in the future. If they really are willing to let you take the heat for something they did, this may tip you off that they are a toxic coworker who you should work with cautiously.

4. “I wasn’t involved with this part of the project, but please tell me the correct way to handle this situation.”

This is a straightforward way to acknowledge that you definitely were not responsible for whatever problem occurred without blaming a specific person. This phrase may also come in handy if you know that something was done incorrectly, but you truly aren’t sure who is responsible. Making sure that your boss knows that you’re willing to listen attentively to avoid mistakes in the future is also important.

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Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.