Just as you can't stick your hand into a mailbox and pull out a letter you didn’t intend to mail, you cannot stick a virtual hand into the digital world and retrieve an email that is headed to the wrong person. (In most cases, that is. We’ll discuss this aspect more in a minute.)
What's done is done, so how do you mitigate the damage? Well, when you are swimming and start to drown, if you panic, you will probably die. Therefore, keeping calm and assessing the situation logically is your first step. You know the email didn’t go to the right person, so to whom did it go? Figuring out where it is and how that affects you comes next.
Contact the recipient(s) immediately because the longer you wait, the worse it could get. With any luck, you can reach the other person before he or she opens the email. If you grovel enough, they might just delete it without reading it. In this scenario, you have learned a valuable lesson but you escaped the situation relatively unscathed. I bet you double-check the “To Field" the next time you send an email.
However, if the worst has happened and the other party has read the email, now you have some damage control to do fast:
- Confess. I know it hurts and it is embarrassing, but this is a case where honesty is really your best policy.
- Just admit you made a mistake and take the heat without making excuses or trying to justify what happened.
- Saying “I’m sorry" is hard.
- Saying, “I’m sorry. I was wrong; please forgive me" can be extremely painful but it sure shows your moral character.
It takes guts to admit your failures, but it could be the key to salvaging what is left of a career, friendship or relationship.
While I can’t speak to all email systems as I’m not familiar with them, there is a way to set your Google Gmail to give you a chance to retrieve an unintended email before it wrecks your life.
- Open your email and navigate to the settings at the upper right hand corner.
- Click mail settings.
- Click the lab tab.
- Enable the undo send function.
- Save your changes and exit.
Before you write that rant, send that email, or post that inflammatory blog post, pause and think about how it could affect you. After all, you'll be living with those words for a long, long time. How will they taste if you have to eat them?