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How to Handle Missent Emails

Email Etiquette requires you apologize for missent emails.

A site visitor writes:

I was wondering if you had any advice about the best thing to do when you accidentally “mis-send” an email to the wrong person–whether it’s embarrassing, like a complaint meant for a co-worker that you inadvertently send to your boss, or something more simple, like hitting “reply to all” when you only meant to respond to the sender. Can you give advice about what you should do when you realize your mistake?

We’ve all had this happen to us. You hit reply, don’t pay attention to the details, type your message and click Send. Sometimes you realize your mistake instantly — other times a little bit later.

There are several factors that will dictate how you should respond. Was the error one that will cause concern or hurt feelings? Will it make it appear that you are petty or an e-tattler?

How you react when you discover your error will build or hinder your trust and credibility factor. How fast you correct yourself also can make a difference in how your error is perceived.

Context and Content Matters

I’ve done this myself where I responded to an email actually thinking I was responding to someone else entirely. The content or context was nothing of significance — the other side was probably thinking “what the heck is she talking about?”

When this happened I immediately responded to the misdirected contact and let them know I got ahead of myself and wasn’t paying attention. I then apologized for the unnecessary email. Because the comments were benign I also added a humorous comment to lighten things up.

You’ll find that most folks will reply back commenting that they understand and have done the same thing. Everyone moves on.

Embarrassing or Petty Commentary

If you hit Reply to All or inadvertently send snarky comments to your boss, whether they are true or not, this will not reflect positively on you. This is where your follow-up reaction is crucial to how things go moving forward.

When you hit Reply to All and it doesn’t apply to all — you just appear that you lack tech savvy or are an inefficient communicator. How many times have you been included in “all” and it doesn’t apply to you? What did you think at the time?

The only thing you can do is to humbly apologize for the error. Don’t make excuses for why this happened. You made a mistake because you were not paying attention to what buttons you were hitting.

If your oversight has compromised trust or hurt someone’s feelings due to your missend, then I recommend a personal phone call or note to the party involved. Throw in a dash of groveling for your lack of attention to detail with a courteous and self-effacing tone.

Apologize with Humility

My sincere apology for that last email. I am embarrassed that you had to experience my temporary lapse of decorum and can assure you that I am not pleased with my actions either. We all learn from our mistakes and I have most certainly learned from this experience. I’ve learned I need to be more thoughtful and detail oriented. I appreciate your understanding and hope this will not impact our ongoing communications.

Again, no excuses – only a sincere and genuine apology will do.

As with most things, there is a silver lining when this happens. The silver lining is that you most likely will not do it again. You’ll be more apt to pay attention to those details that can avoid hurt feelings or abuse someone’s trust. And that’s a good thing!

Willing to share how you handled a missend?

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