So, you replied all when you thought you were typing something confidential to a work friend. Or maybe you weren’t looking and selected the wrong name before you hit “send,” tossing over super-sensitive information that is now in the wrong hands. Maybe your email fuckup wasn’t an accident. Maybe, before taking a beat, you sent an emotionally-charged email to a manager or employee that was borderline inappropriate (or at the very least could have used some toning down).
You can’t go back in time and un-send an email — what’s done is done, and you might be embarrassed, anxious, and stressed out. Just about all of us have sent the wrong email at some point (or have maybe even been on the receiving end of an email mistake). Assuming your email wasn’t violating ethical codes of conduct (like sexual harassment or admitting you stole company money), the situation is probably fixable, and odds are, you won’t get fired over an email.
1. Use Gmail’s Undo Send feature.
But before we talk about what are the best steps you should take after a cringe-y email faux pas, let’s talk preventative measures. First, if you’re using Gmail, you actually can un-send an email! Make sure you have the “undo send” feature turned on (as far as I know, this should come with any new account automatically, but you can always check in your settings) since this gives you a few seconds to hit the rewind button before you send an email. This is amazing for typos and small errors you of course catch right after you click “send,” but it’s an absolute life-saver for email catastrophes.
And second, always give yourself time when you’re responding to an email. You might be sending proprietary information, or maybe just typing a message to an especially important person. Maybe what you’re sending via email could be said over text. Not that gossiping is ever a good idea, but if you have to vent, vent over iMessage or WhatsApp. (The same rules go for Slack — none of your messages are private and employers are absolutely allowed to download even private DMs.)
2. Own up to it.
But okay! So you already messed up. You sent an email that is bound to get you into some kind of trouble, or at least a stern one-on-one. The best way out is through. Own your fuckup. Don’t blame it on 2020, a lack of caffeine, your workload, etc. All of those might be a factor, but nobody tied you to a chair and forced you to mis-respond to an email. And honestly, the last thing anyone wants to hear is an excuse. They want an apology and they want to know that you’ll be more vigilant and respectful.
3. Sent a fury email? Talk in person.
If you purposely sent an email out of anger, now is the time to (thoughtfully, deliberately, and calmly) communicate how you feel in person, so that the recipient is able to get your perspective. And honestly, you should have done this to start with — confrontations should ideally never be made over emails.
There’s way too much room for miscommunication, and intentions are easily misread and misinterpreted. So, consider this mistake a good thing. You apologized to the person who received the fury email, you hopefully hashed out the problem, and now you have a real, actionable solution moving forward.
4. Try the 15-minute rule.
I’ve personally never sent the “wrong” email out, but I’m totally guilty of sending passive-aggressive, angst-fueled messages to managers and coworkers in the past. It always felt empowering at the moment: I was standing up for what I believed in, and trying to prove that I was right and they were wrong. But every single time, about ten minutes after hitting “send,” I’d regret sending the message. I’d start second-guessing my reaction and re-read the words and phrasing I chose, and sometimes even copy and paste the email over to my husband so he could reassure me that I wasn’t in the wrong. But in my gut, I knew I was. And I knew I should either given myself more time to respond or put some time on the calendar between me and the recipient if I felt like there was a major issue. I’ve since established an email rule for myself: If I feel upset over an email, I’ll give myself at least 15 minutes before responding to it. If the email I received is still making me feel like I need to throw my laptop through a window, then that probably warrants a meeting.
5. Don’t beat yourself up.
Obviously, saying sorry won’t erase a mistake. You’ll still have to grapple with uncomfortable or uneasy meetings or calls, but also? Worse things have happened at work. So, you sent the wrong email. Stop beating yourself up about it, move forward, and do better. Communication is hard, and nobody is perfect at it. But definitely, definitely make sure you have that undo feature.
Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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