How to write an "I screwed up" email

by Jessica Zartler / June 02, 2015

We’ve all been there. The big boss’ name in your inbox. And you can already tell by the one word subject line - it’s not looking good. You screwed up. It doesn’t matter how small or how big. All sins feel equal when you feel like an arse.

But what no one may have told you is that it’s actually not that you screwed up, it’s how you handle it that is the true test.

Here are three tips to turn your faux pas into foie gras.


Last week, I was the one shuddering at the inbox. I conquered my fear and opened the email:

Oh, snap! Uh.. what? NOOOOOO!!!!!!
Those were my immediate reactions. (A slightly more edited version.)

Apparently, an intern who shall not be named made a spelling error on the big boss’ Twitter account. Oops.

Here’s what I wrote back:

1. Don’t Throw Your Colleagues Under the Bus

This is the most important rule. Don’t rush to pass the blame. Your colleagues are your teammates. It’s not only damaging to morale, but it looks immature to the big boss if you say in your best six-year-old voice, “It’s so and so’s fault!!” And you better believe, the next time something happens, your colleague won’t be playing Spartacus for your blunder.

In this case, my intern is under my care and watch. If he or she makes a mistake, likely it is because I did not give enough guidance. Taking ownership of the situation is one of the best ways you can rise above the bungle.

2. Propose a Plan to Improve

Every snafu is a learning opportunity. In this case, it was a reminder that we need to follow editing processes before we post on our website, social media or send messages to our customers. There should always be two, if not four pairs of eyes on anything that goes out, as I said in my response email.

3. Say You Won’t Don’t Do it Again… and Don’t Do it Again

You can’t necessarily keep this promise 110%, after all, we are human and we make mistakes. However, it’s good to always say, “It won’t happen again” - setting the intention lets your boss know that you take the mistake seriously and you don’t want a repeat problem.

And in case you were curious. This is the response I got back:

Phew! (Wipes sweat from brow)

I live to write another blog.

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