We’ve all done it, sent an email to the wrong person, maybe pressed “send” too soon. Having done it once, the more uncomfortable the experience was, the less likely it is to happen again. Unfortunately these things happen. Maybe your software has the email equivalent of an airbag – if not…
What can you do? How do you put things right?
First, let’s assume you don’t have the proverbial airbag. What you can and should do depends on the type of mistake and how serious it is…
Hitting “send” too soon
Probably this is the one most of us have done before. If it’s a half completed email then whoever receives it will probably understand what has happened and hopefully be sympathetic, having done it themselves sometime in the past. All the same, the thing to do is complete the email quickly and send it with a short message at the top apologising for it going too soon and asking that the first version be ignored.
What not to do is send more than one email – that’s why you need to send the corrected version fairly quickly. Clearing an inbox is enough of a challenge in itself without adding to it with an apology and then a corrected version.
It gets a little trickier in the unfortunate situation where the shortened version looks like you are being a bit brusque with the recipient. In this case a quick apology and explanation accompanying the intended full email is even more important as, this time, you won’t have the protection that comes with “we’ve all done it”.
More difficult to salvage is the situation where the email is to a potential customer, such a mistake not being the best advert for accuracy or attention to detail, even if purely accidental. As they say, “you only get one chance to make a good first impression”, and it’s is a shame not to make the best of that opportunity. In this case, the best approach is to take precautions before it happens: make sure the addressee is left blank until you have read and re-read the email and are absolutely sure it’s ready to go; and don’t use a phone as it’s too easy to touch the wrong button.
Predictive text: incorrect autocorrect
Again, probably more serious when making contact with someone for the first time, using a mobile phone for such important messages could be interpreted as not giving, for example, a potential customer the time and effort they feel they deserve. Phone use is betrayed by predictive text mistakes. Not checking spelling and grammar again suggests a lack of attention to detail. In this case prevention is once again better than a cure, so it’s probably being best to avoid mobile phones altogether with these types of email.
In other circumstances it depends on how serious the mistake is as to whether or not a quick apology is appropriate.
Sending the wrong attachment
How to deal with this depends on what has been sent compared to what should have been sent.
Hopefully a short, prompt follow up email attaching the correct document will suffice. If it’s a bit more embarrassing, a quick phone call would probably be more appropriate. Again, if it’s a potential new customer, and you’ve sent instead a holiday snap, your attention to detail might be questioned.
Possibly more serious is if the document sent contains information that should not be disclosed. Then a phone call explaining the mistake and asking that the email and attachment be deleted is probably the best solution. In the case of more junior employees disclosing confidential information, discussing the matter with a line manager should be the first step to take.
Accidentally sending or replying to all
One of the best examples of how this can escalate and cause turmoil is when, in 2016, an NHS IT contractor accidentally sent out a test email to 1.2m NHS colleagues. The situation got out of hand when hundreds of individuals queried the email, or asked to be removed from the distribution list by using reply to all, quickly clogging up the system. As well as the mess that resulted, the very serious downside was that it created a dangerous risk to the wellbeing of patients. By the time the situation was resolved it was estimated that 186m emails had been circulated involving 840,000 NHS email accounts!
How to deal with this depends on the circumstances, in other words, how serious it is. First the easiest, where for example you receive an invitation to an event and copy everyone with the reasons why you cannot attend. Ignoring it, and just putting it down to experience might be the simplest option, or if you feel it’s necessary send a short “sorry I didn’t mean to send that” follow up then leave it. More serious is where, for example, a comment is made about a colleague. This is probably best dealt with by either an apology in person or, if that is not possible, by telephone, regardless of how uncomfortable it feels.
With CompassAir, our team email collaboration software, the user can choose their default reply action, that is: reply, reply all, forward or reply with meeting. On the face of each email is a drop down menu next to the default action. Setting default to “reply” and being forced to then use the drop down menu for an alternative reduces the risk of the above mistakes being made.
Getting the recipient wrong
Again, two scenarios: the first, the need to spell a person’s name correctly, should not be treated lightly. Spelling mistakes are generally tolerated, and are now quite rare given the widespread use of spellchecking. However, getting a person’s name wrong is quite different, and some consider it to show a lack of respect. At best it demonstrates a lack of attention to detail and could be enough to undermine efforts to win a new customer, especially when the name has already appeared in a previous email, letter or advertisement. So care should be taken to double check first time recipients, and even those already in your address book warrant a cursory glance.
The second scenario is where an email is sent to the wrong person and again, how to deal with it depends on how serious it is. An email to the wrong colleague can easily be dealt with a short follow up “sorry this was sent by mistake, please delete”. If it’s confidential information sent to the wrong person then, much like sending the wrong attachment, a phone call explaining the mistake and asking that the email be deleted is probably the best solution. For a more junior employee, discussing the matter with your line manager is prudent, especially if the email contains sensitive information or refers to colleagues.
Ending it with an “X”
Even if you keep email addresses for personal and business completely separate this unfortunate mistake can still happen. The danger increases if you are in the habit of communicating with loved ones during the working day, using WhatsApp, Messenger and the like. It’s probably crossed your mind what might happen or how embarrassing it would be if you, dread the thought, accidentally added an “x” to the end of your email to the CEO! In this case it’s probably best to shrug it off, pretend it never happened, and laugh about it when you get the chance.
Software with safety features
In summary: be careful when using email: by its very nature it means that mistakes can happen very quickly. Have a rough idea what you might do should any of the above happen to you and, when possible, adjust the settings or use the features that come with your software to reduce the risk of mistakes happening in the first place.