By Paula Lau
Have you ever inadvertently sent an email to the wrong person? And what you wrote was definitely not what you wanted the unintended recipient to read? A good friend of mine (we’ll call her Jane) became a newly minted member of this club. She mistakenly sent a rather candid response to an email back to the original sender (we’ll call him John). Unfortunately, the candid response was meant for someone else. The end result? John went ballistic and scathingly upbraided Jane in an email to her and several of their mutual friends.
When Jane got over her initial freak-out, remorse and regret threatened to overwhelm her. She quickly became immersed in self condemnation and made a quick call to me. After she told me what she did, we screamed together, but then collected ourselves and began damage control and working toward a resolution. Later on, I began to think about the steps we took together and thought all of us might benefit from knowing what the heck we should do when we do something really stupid.
First of all, look hard at what you did. What was your intention? In this case, Jane had not intended to send her remarks back to John. It was a mistake. She pressed the Reply button instead of the Forward button. As John Rosemond, noted child psychologist wrote, “Unfortunately, we learn the most in life from our mistakes.” I can pretty much guarantee that Jane will never make that mistake again.
Secondly, did you deliberately set out to hurt someone? Intentionally given pain isolates the one who willingly dishes it out and makes for a very short list of friends. Jane’s remarks were meant to be read by a person whose counsel she trusted and she wanted to share some of those gut feelings we all experience and in unguarded moments share with trusted confidantes. She had not intentionally set out to hurt John.
Thirdly, Jane was not responsible for making the conflict a public issue among their friends. In assessing the situation, I pointed out to Jane that it was important that she take responsibility for her part but to be careful not to accept blame for that which she did not do. It was amazing to watch the condemnation and guilt people were willing to assign to her quickly and without forethought. And, if Jane had let it happen, it all would have come to land squarely on her.
When you do something stupid it is incredibly important to seek out those people who will support you and let you know that even though you’ve committed an error, you are not a terrible person. When you are guilty and feeling regretful you don’t need people who are just going to “pile on.”
And finally, be ready to apologize. Jane did not put off her apology to John. She collected herself and made a call to him. She told him that she was sorry that she had hurt his feelings and John, being in a better place himself, also apologized for making the issue public. Together they were able to discuss why she had said what she said and both learned something from the experience.
None of us are going to make it through life without doing some pretty stupid things. As Mel Brooks said, “As long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes.” So friends, hold on for dear life and for heaven’s sake watch where you send your emails.