That stomach dropping moment after you hit send

(As a random side note.  I’m not sure why, but at some point in time I developed the bad habit of wanting to spell stomach, stomache.  Not sure where it came from, but I have to consciously correct myself to keep from doing it.  Odd.  Anyway.)

This happens to me all the time.  I have to write an important e-mail for work or to a friend or for some other reason.  And I write the e-mail and I re-read the e-mail.  (In the case of a potential query I send the e-mail to two different e-mail accounts and re-read it from both of those accounts to see if there are funky formatting issues or if I somehow spelled things wrong.)  I edit the e-mail.  I spellcheck the e-mail.  I read it again.  I edit it again.  I spellcheck it again.  I read it one last time.  I hit send.

And then I have this panicked moment where I wonder stupid things like: “Oh my god, did I just send that to the wrong person?” or (for the query e-mails) “Did I forget to remove the FWD: from the title line of the e-mail?” or “I forgot to verify the spelling of that person’s last name that’s all consonants and twenty characters long. Shit.”

So I frantically go to my sent items and check for whatever paranoid delusional thought has hold of my mind.  And usually it’s ok.  Because if it’s an important enough e-mail I’ve checked it about ten times already.

But every once in a while…that little nagging feeling is legitimate.

When this happens, the immediate instinct is to correct the situation.  Apologize.  Recall the message.  What have you.


Especially think long and hard about issuing a message recall.  This used to happen at my old employer about every six months or so.  Someone would send out an e-mail they shouldn’t have.  Let’s say, for example, a draft HR memo on the new benefits system.  It’d hit my in box along with the three hundred other e-mails I’d gotten that day.

I didn’t care about that e-mail.  It was number 299 on my list of priorities for the day.  Until I saw the recall notice.  Then I was intrigued.  Hmm.  Maybe they’d accidentally sent out an e-mail listing all the senior executive’s compensation instead of a memo on the new benefits system.  Well, only one way to find out.  Read the original e-mail.

So, now an e-mail that I wouldn’t have thought twice about moved to number one on the list.  (And don’t ask me how I was able to read recalled messages, but I was.  Something about either already having clicked on them, so it had to get my permission to recall them. Or I think I could go and click on the original message as long as I didn’t click on the recall notice first.  And I seem to remember that recall notices didn’t work on the Blackberry.)

However I did it, a recall message notice had the exact opposite effect of what the sender intended.  So, if you’re in that situation, consider the innocuous alternative of, “Here is an updated version of that HR memo.  Sorry for the confusion, but the prior version was missing contact information on page 3.  Please read this memo instead.”

Might be a lie.  But most people won’t care and will delete that prior e-mail without much thought because they have better things to do than read your prior e-mail that was missing contact info on page 3.

So, what do you do if you’ve sent something that has a stupid error and you realized it right after you sent it?  Maybe you sent a query e-mail and used “Mr.” instead of “Ms.”  Or you sent your boss an e-mail that has two misspelled words and you only realized it after the fact.

In my opinion, at that point in time, you let it slide.  If it’s a little issue like that, you should have caught it before you sent the e-mail.  But you’re just going to dig a deeper hole for yourself if you send a follow-up e-mail right after pointing out the issue.  It’s possible the other person won’t even notice if you don’t point it out.  Take a deep breath, swear to proofread better in the future, and move on.

(Chances are the agent won’t reject your query for one typo and your boss won’t fire you for one misspelled word.  And if they would, and you’re the type to make those errors regularly, well, you’re probably better off elsewhere anyway.)

Now, sometimes it’s a bigger issue.  You send your boss the schedule of what have you and forget to actually attach the file.  I’ve done this.  And I usually realize about twenty seconds after I hit send.  Sometimes I wait about five minutes to see if anyone points it out to me.  If so, then I can say, “My apologies.  John just pointed out that I’d forgotten the attachment.  Here it is.”  Otherwise I follow-up with another e-mail and attach it, because you don’t want your boss to review that e-mail at 2 AM (like mine used to) and realize that there’s no attachment.  If you see the error, fix the error.

Bottom line on this:  We all make mistakes.  When you do, DO NOT PANIC.  Figure out how serious a mistake it really is.  If it’s minor, let it slide.  Acknowledge it if someone else points it out, but otherwise let it go.  If it’s more serious, fix is promptly and professionally.  No need to grovel or engage in excessive apologies.  Just make it right.

Oh, and added bonus tip.  If someone sends an e-mail to a large distribution list and you’d like to make a comment about that e-mail that doesn’t need to go to the whole entire list, use REPLY and not REPLY ALL.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to see some stupid conversation on my e-mail because someone hit reply all to say something that no one else needed to know.

Example: Updated Time Reporting e-mail sent to all employees.  Reply: “Did you get my time report for the week of June 15th?”  Don’t do this.  (Sometimes I’m tempted to reply to the person just for kicks, but I don’t.  I just put that person on a list of people I don’t want on any of my projects ever.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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5 Responses to That stomach dropping moment after you hit send

  1. So I’m not the only one who worries about sending the e-mail to the wrong recipient? It’s reassuring that you also double-check with the sent items! The corporate world can be cruel about human errors, even though imperfection is a fact of life. Corporations don’t deal well with reality. I also have to admit that some e-mails accidentally sent to me have added some laughter to the day…

    • mhleewriter says:

      Absolutely. I love the “reply all, recall, apology” ones the most.

      Unfortunately, my other problem is knowing damned well I shouldn’t send something and sending it anyway. No help for that one…

      • I heard once to avoid sending anything emotional in e-mail, whether it’s to business, family, or friends. Keep e-mail light or businesslike. It’s good advice!

        BTW I don’t know how to recall e-mail, but it’s probably something everyone should know!

      • mhleewriter says:

        Be careful with message recall. I think I wrote a post about that, too, at some point. A lot of times it shows that you’re trying to recall something rather than just recalling it. So, me being me, that immediately prompts me to go read the e-mail someone is trying to recall to see what they messed up. 🙂

      • That’s a good heads-up! It may be best if I don’t know how to do it, because I can practice extreme caution. I’ve been on the receiving end of stupid or misguided e-mails in the past. I go physically see people more often now, using e-mail for more trivial matters!

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