Email at Work

by Barbara Buffton

What to do if it all goes wrong

The very fact that emails are free to send to an infinite number of people means that there is an instant recipe for miscommunication and errors. We can easily get things wrong when we’re face to face with people, but when we only have (written) words, the risk is even higher. One of the problems also is that our intent might be different to our impact.

Case history

I emailed a relative I hadn’t seen for years and who I was looking forward to seeing, ‘Let me know when you’re coming so that I can arrange to be home, as I travel a lot for work.’ He wrote back, ‘Well, I don’t think we’ll bother if you have to fit us into your busy schedule’.

How people interpret the words we write depends on many things, such as what kind of a day they are having, the history between you, the rapport you have and so on. So, when emailing, it can be easy to misinterpret others or to be misinterpreted. If this happens, it is imperative to pick up the phone or go and see them. Speak to them to find out what’s going on and to explain your intent. If you respond by email, you risk your words being taken wrongly once more.

The wrong person

If you send an email to the wrong person, what should you do? Do not try to retrieve the situation by asking your recipient to ignore it/delete it. They will almost certainly read it, if they haven’t done so already. It is better to phone to say that you have made a mistake and apologise. This will look much more honest and professional than trying to recall a message. It can also be more time-efficient in the long run.

An expensive mistake 

‘I got fired because I sent an email by mistake to the wrong person that had someone else’s credit card information in it.’


My most embarrassing typo was ten years ago when sending an email to a colleague called Charlotte and the first letter of her name didn’t connect on the keyboard. I only found out a year later.