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How to Respond to a Boss Reprimand

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Being reprimanded by your boss can be a disheartening and even embarrassing experience, especially if it's done in front of colleagues. If your boss has a valid point, it needs to be addressed. If you feel the reprimand is unwarranted, it too needs to be talked about to ensure there's no confusion over your actions in the workplace.

Listen to the Reprimand

A good boss will talk to you one-on-one in private if he has a concern about your work or your behavior. In this instance, a boss will state the problem or his concerns, give you time to respond, and then discuss appropriate recourse. For example, he might say, “I see you missed the deadline for delivering the newsletter copy to the printer. This is the third time this quarter, and in each instance, our department had to pay a rush fee to get the publication out on time. We need to talk about your ongoing inability to meet deadlines.” It is important that you listen to your boss calmly and respectfully, and take in what he says so you have a full understanding of the problem. Do not react with anger or negative body language.

Respond to Warranted Reprimands

If the missed deadline is, in fact, the result of your poor time management or lack of organization, you need to own up to the role you played, apologize for your actions and the resulting problems it created for your department, and make an honest assessment of how you plan to change your behavior in the future. For example, you might say, “You're right -- I dropped the ball, and I apologize. This has been an ongoing struggle for me. I’m working to improve my time management skills and I have a goal of completing future projects at least 48 hours in advance of deadline.”

Address Inappropriate Reprimands

There may be instances where your boss is off-base in placing blame for a situation on you. If the boss berates you in front of colleagues, request a one-on-one private conversation in which you respectfully ask your boss to bring future concerns to you privately. If the reprimand is for something out of your control, this too needs to be brought to the boss' attention. For example: “Yes, I missed three print deadlines. However, the deadlines were missed because the graphics department failed to deliver camera-ready materials to me on time. This has been an ongoing problem." If you brought the problem up in previous conversations, remind your boss of this and provide documentation if you have it.

Reach Consensus

After you and your boss discuss the particulars of the issue at hand, work with her to reach a suitable compromise. For example, if you're to blame, your boss will likely issue a formal warning about your performance levels and put future disciplinary action on the table if the problem arises again. If a reprimand is uncalled for because of extenuating circumstances, request the heart of the matter be examined to reach resolution. In the above example, the boss should be encouraged to talk to the graphic designer who is delaying production.


Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

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