Moneyish / Carlota Zimmerman

How to Recover from the Horror of Sending an Email you Shouldn’t Have

May 30, 2017


This is one click of the mouse you can’t undo.

One of the world’s largest airlines, Emirates, recently sent an email to a customer it shouldn’t have, The Independent reports. The subject of the email reportedly read “Wtf …” and the email, which was in response to the passenger asking for compensation after her flight was late, went on to say “… is she on about?!? If you’ve put it in the letter, what the fuk [sic] does she need to do!!!”. Emirates has since apologized.

We’ve all been there.

Author Karen R. Koenig tells Moneyish that on one busy Friday night she accidentally sent an email to the publisher of her book about how horrible it was to work with them. “I’d just been notified that a book I’d co-written had won an award and was emailing an announcement–involving cutting and pasting-to different sets of people,” she says. “For the friends, family and agent email, I’d included a comment about what ‘a misery’ writing the book had been due to ongoing problems with the publisher.”

She forgot to cut that part on the email to her editors — something she realized about five minutes after sending. “I sent a mea culpa email to the two people at the publishing company saying that the ‘misery’ comment referred to their having outsourced our editing … and how awful that experience was.” She still “felt badly for about a week, then let it go.” She adds: “I now don’t do any emailing that complicated on a Friday night,” she says.

Jesse Harrison, founder and CEO of Zeus Legal Funding, inadvertently sent a client’s credit card information to the wrong person. “The former client’s email address was in my address book and it started with “Accounting” so did my accountant’s email address,” he says. And while working in television, New York City resident Carlota Zimmerman meant to send a gossipy message about one of the attractive men in her office to her friend, but sent it to the man instead. “I was mortified. I wanted to burst into tears,” she says. Luckily, the guy receiving the email thought it was “hilarious” (and they actually ended up dating). Still, Zimmerman says, “I was lucky: he was a rising star reporter, I was a dime-a-dozen assignment editor, he could have had me fired.”

So how does one recover from an accidental email send? Evaluate the content of the email. “If the email is somewhat innocuous or just embarrassing, you can ignore it,” says career coach George Dutch. “But if the email will damage your employer’s reputation or operation in some way, run to your boss to explain and determine damage control.”

In many cases, the email content will be somewhere in between innocuous and reputation-ruining. For that, “pick up the phone and apologize without excuses,” says workplace expert and author Samantha Ettus. “You can’t risk an email apology where tone could get completely lost.”

You may also need to do something more than just apologize, as Harrison did after the credit card snafu: “I gave him a discount to make up for the trouble.” And you can use the mistake as a way to “talk through any underlying issues … and suggest a time to meet in person,” Ettus adds.

Finally, “put in place a protocol that prevents the same thing from happening in future,” says Dutch. “For example, don’t mix professional and personal emails, set up separate accounts for each.” He adds that you can change your settings in Gmail, for example, to give you a 30-second delay in which you can “undo” sending a message before the person gets it.

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