E-mail is not your friend

Yes, it is true. E-mail is not your friend. (And no, I’m not going to digress into a Twitter or texting discussion; this is about e-mail in business.)

We’ve all seen examples of this happening – someone hits “reply to all” or copies a person that should not be copied. Well, I recently witnessed this horrible event in a very upclose way.

A team that I work closely with was sending e-mails back and forth, trying to hit some deadlines. As the team is fortunate to get along well, they started making jokes within the e-mails. Specifically, they made fun of a client. AND THEN SOMEHOW MANAGED TO COPY SAID CLIENT.

Oh, the horror! You know how they felt once it came to their attention. Think of all the emotions and thoughts they are going through:

  • Horrified
  • Angry
  • Upset
  • Panic
  • Embarrassed

Then, the questions probably going through their minds:

  • What can we do to fix this?
  • Should we do anything or let sleeping dogs lie?
  • What about our individual reputations?
  • What about our team reputation?
  • What will the team lead do? Create new working arrangements? Leave everything alone and let it pass now that it’s been addressed?

Not the best way to start off the day. The client took the high road with the “better me than someone else” response. But what does that really mean? Anyone? Bueller?

The long and short of it is this: e-mail is not your friend. We all know that verbal sarcasm and comments go on in the workplace, but once it is written down, it is there forever. I tend to think that this is far worse than an embarrassing picture on Facebook.

What about you? What do you think? How would you handle this situation?

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Susan Cellura is a marketing communications professional with over 20 years of experience. She is a dynamic communications professional and enthusiastic team-builder, with a progressive history of success in designing and implementing communications programs for global organizations. A strategic thinker with the ability to understand the needs of multiple audiences and deliver solutions, Susan is a results-oriented problem-solver with exceptional interpersonal and negotiation abilities. Having worked in a variety of global industries, she has grown business communications in her current position via a strong mixture of strategic resources, including social media.

3 thoughts on “E-mail is not your friend”

  1. If it was me, I would have immediately said (or written if in person/on the phone is not possible) the following to the client:

    Dear Client,

    I owe you an apology. The message on which you were copied was inappropriate and disrespectful. I realize in retrospect that this was an extremely bad decision on my part, and I deeply regret sending it. As a business professional, I should, and do know better than to allow the day-to-day frustrations of the job to impact my judgement so far as to insult a valued client of XYZ. I am embarassed and ashamed of myself for doing so.

    Client, I will certainly understand if you do not feel you can accept my apology, but I would like to ask that you not hold my team members accountable for what was entirely my error in judgement.

    I assure you that this lapse in judgement will never happen again, and once again would like to apologize for the email message.

    Most sincerely,

  2. A sincere mea culpa seems to be in order here. I like Kristen’s approach a lot. And I think it’s best handled in person or at least on the phone.

    But then, once the apology is given (and, hopefully, accepted) it’s really important to allow yourself to move on. Try to get beyond feeling bad about it or feeling awkward around the client. Learn from the mistake, let the water go under the bridge and redouble your efforts to do good work for the client.

  3. Oh dear,
    Do you remember I always said be careful what you put in writing. It may come back to bite you. In this techno age it is so easy for that to happen. I do like Kristin’s approach…and then move on. Hopefully, you client has a sense of humor.

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