How to Respond to that Email You Shouldn't Have Hit Send On

Even in our high-tech age, email is still a preferred way to communicate. Statistics suggest the average worker receives 121 emails per day and sends out about 40. With those numbers, there are bound to be some mistakes.

bad email

Protect your professional reputation by knowing how to respond to that email you shouldn't have hit send on. Here's our take on dealing with an awkward situation.

1. Face up to your mistake

At some point we've all mistakenly hit send too early on an email that was incomplete, missing an attachment, or contained the wrong information. Maybe even written one drafted in anger with the intention to be toned down later, but was inadvertently sent out. Whether the email went to a customer e-blast that was erroneous in nature or to a colleague you were upset with, you can't bury your head in the sand and pretend it didn't happen. You can't undo the email, and it definitely won't go away on its own. Best to accept it and proactively move forward.

2. Acknowledge and apologize

Hitting send too quickly can be downright embarrassing, especially if the message comes off as unprofessional, sarcastic, or combative. Or, in the event of "sent to the wrong person", it can read politically incorrect or mean. While some blunders are harder than others to apologize for, it's necessary to do it. How you approach your apology depends on the type of email you sent.

  • Premature emails. This kind of mistake is usually easily forgiven. In most instances, you can resend the message with a "Whoops" and an apology. It's OK to be a little comical or sheepish when you apologize; everyone screws up from time to time. In the follow-up, triple check to make sure the email is clear, apologetic, information is correct, and any attachments or links are included.
  • Anger. These are trickier to deal with, but like any other mistake, it's best to acknowledge, apologize, and gracefully ask for forgiveness. Explain why you felt the way you did and how you regret your reaction to the problem.
  • Accidental "reply all". This mistake can be overwhelmingly embarrassing depending on the content of the email and who was on the list (i.e. boss, executives, or clients). The best thing you can do is own your awkward moment and express regret for it.
  • Wrong person. Another potential humiliating situation. A remedy is to draft an email as soon as you notice your mistake. Explain what happened (i.e. autofill mistake, wrong tab, etc.) and apologize for your error. Politely ask your unintended recipient to please disregard the information.

3. Be timely (and other tips)

It's never a good idea to procrastinate too long to fix the situation. Be timely, so it doesn't get even worse. In your response, be sure to:

  • Show empathy.
  • Avoid excuses.
  • Never place blame on someone else.

Essentially, you want to own the mistake 100 percent. You'll be better respected for it, and it'll demonstrate your professionalism, show sincerity, and possibly even strengthen relationships in the long run.

4. Ways to avoid email mishaps

Mistakes happen, but you can take a few proactive steps to avoid them.

  • Never fill in the "to" field until your email has been proofread carefully.
  • Avoid late-night emails.
  • Draft angry emails outside of email—if it still warrants sending, later on, word it carefully before sending.
  • Look into browser extensions supported by your email system to see if any recall options exist.

Anytime your message is taken the wrong way, accidentally sent or not, it's a good idea to give the person a call or, if possible, meet face-to-face to apologize. Offer to clarify and provide better context.

Ideally, we’d prefer to avoid email mishaps entirely, but none of us are perfect. The best we can do when email blunders occur is to apologize, do as much as possible to remedy the situation, and be graceful about doing it. Many people are forgiving because they've made mistakes too—remember this when you get an email sent by mistake!

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