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Email Hell: Musings from the Corner Office

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It’s really very simple: “Reply” does not mean “Forward.”

The words don’t look the same; they don’t sound the same. So no one would actually be stupid enough to mistake the two and inadvertently return to sender a nasty little note meant for a forward friend, right?

Collective sigh and then all together now: Wrong.

Really, you’d think that by now we’d have this whole email thing down.  I mean, most of us barely remember a time when we actually had to speak to our colleagues. So why do so many of us seemingly smart execs have a story (or two) about a careless stumble into email hell—painfully public tales of electronic humiliation, retaliation, and worse?

While almost all instances of email errors result from a basic blend of sloppiness and speed, the ramifications can vary widely.    

Based on my own painful personal experience, the most blatant blunder is the one referenced above—the old “oh crap, just sent that ‘Carrie is a moron’ email to Carrie instead of Terry!”

So who’s the idiot now? The only thing to do is sit back and wait for either the pointed “I don’t think you meant to send this to me” message from Miss Might Go to HR or the full frontal attack from Ms. Type Aggressive. Either way, that pang in the pit of your stomach is the least of your punishment at this point, sister …

Another common e-rror is one I like to call the Third Party Trash, which is just one of the possible pitfalls of forwarding a long email chain. The TPT occurs when a clueless colleague inadvertently loops someone into an email thread without realizing that same person is slammed in some way earlier in the string of messages. 

Inevitably, someone on the scroll patrol will get to the bottom of things, so to speak, and then someone’s got some ’splaining to do!

Of course the most embarrassing email emergency results from confusing “Reply” and “Reply all.” You know the feeling—the millisecond after you hit send on that clever cut-down, you realize the finger fumble … but it’s too late.

This moment of misery is quickly followed by a frantic search for the “Recall all” function. Of course this is a desperate act in and of itself, since it’s as much an admission of guilt as a big scarlet A. I’ll go ahead and admit that anytime I see that someone is trying to recall a message, I immediately open it to seek what she is trying to hide.

A woman in my office, Beth, recently replied all to a message from her boss inviting the whole team to a dinner at his house: “Oh God, did you really have to invite Paul and Sarah? If they come, you can count me OUT!”

Needless to say, no amount of recall all could stop the hurt (Paul and Sarah), humiliation (Beth), and hilarity (Distribution).

Remember, if you don’t have anything nice to say, my door is always open …

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