When is a Joke Not a Joke?

A site visitor writes:

I hit “reply” to an email in which I should have “forwarded” to another individual. The reply wasn’t negative in connotation but it did refer to the sender in a joking manner (to me, anyway) as a “damn Yankee”. I realized immediately that I did not hit “forward” as intended but “reply”. How do I apologize to this person? Would it be better to wait and see if they bring it up? This person is friend, who lives in another state and tends to make comments to me about my southern drawl from time to time, also in a joking manner.

I guess it all depends on how that term was used and if there was anything in the email that would warrant an apology. Since I didn’t see the email, nor do I know the personalities involved, only you would know if an apology is in order (listen to your gut–it is always right).

If your comment was clearly in a fun and joking manner, and the person you are concerned about has a sense of humor, it shouldn’t be a problem. But if you used that term in a way to negatively describe the person in question, then you need to offer you humble and sincere apologies pronto!

Joking and sarcasm do not translate well in email and should be avoided unless you are a skilled communicator or know the folks on the receiving end so well you know they will know what you mean. Otherwise you risk your comments being perceived in a way you did not intent because you leave the interpretation of your humor up to the other side. This is where a smiley or winky (;)) are invaluable to confirming that you are joking.

Whenever there is the hint of a misunderstanding in regard to your tone or intent, the sooner you address and clarify the issue — and apologize if necessary — the better to avoid ongoing hurt feelings or misunderstandings.

Have you even been misunderstood when you were joking? How did you handle the aftermath?

Please share...