Monday, February 23, 2009

Ever send an e-mail to the wrong person?

Some of you know how this goes: You send a nasty e-mail, feeling quite emotional and righteous. Then you realize with that sinking feeling that you hit the send button without checking the addressees and sent it to the person you were criticizing. Or, the subject of your wrath sends it back to you (with equally righteous comments) because you didn't know, until that frightful moment, that you had f***ed up.

Woe and alas. This is e-mail, my friends. Can't live with it; can't shoot it. Gotta check and double-check those "To" and "cc" windows. I know this because I have sent the wrong messages to the wrong people. And now today, I had the dis-pleasure of having an e-mail about me (but not intended for me) come via a business partner who first received the errant message. We were to meet with a potential business alliance from out of town and a third party from Pittsburgh was helping to make the arrangements. This person accused my partner and me in an e-mail to the out of town person of everything but the Jimmy Hoffa murder, then mistakenly sent it to my partner, who quickly forwarded it to me.

We immediately angered and then just as quickly laughed. We hardly know this individual and we won't lose any long-standing friendship or deep business relationship as a result of this. However, we now know much more about the real person, someone who has a nasty passive/aggressive streak.

So, what to do? My partner and I discussed our response and decided that he should write back since he received the wayward message. In his measured response, he questioned the business relationship and rightfully so. It's too bad because what happened ultimately costs all of us.

Lesson learned? Well, people don't communicate well. The warden was right: "What we have here is a failure to communicate." The message sender had obvious problems with us and didn't tell us about them. This person's message could have been better delivered in a face-to-face meeting. Or, even an e-mail with a more direct message to us would have helped. But, a rant about us to the out-of-town person didn't help anyone. Or, this person could have written a vitriolic message, full of steam and vinegar, and then never sent it.

Remember this: E-mail works best when it carries facts. It does not work in any emotional context. It lacks context cues and cannot build rapport, especially when you send it to someone you just finished insulting. So, never respond in anger; you'll regret it later.

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