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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Recover From an Epic Email Fail

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Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

If you’re shaking your head just reading the title of this article, it means you’ve been there. You’ve pressed the send button too early. You’ve replied all when you should have just replied. You meant to email Susan, your mom, about what a jerk your boss is, but you emailed Susan, your boss, instead. Oops.

For how simple this email business is, it’s amazing how catastrophically we can complicate our lives in just a matter of seconds. But as coach Marie Forleo likes to say, “Everything is figureoutable.” So, whether you’ve completely offended your manager, replied to the entire company with a corny joke meant for your cubicle mate, or sent confidential information to someone who should absolutely not be seeing it, here are four tips to help you figure your way out of it.

1. Set the Intention to Handle It

You replied all to a company-wide email about upcoming budget cuts and called the finance team a bunch of incompetent a-holes, when you meant to only reply to your colleague Emily. That happened. And despite how much you may wish the opposite were true, you can’t make it un-happen.

Before you do anything else, promise yourself that you’re going to address it and not just pretend that maybe the entire company was too busy eating lunch to open the email. They saw it, they read it, and they’re going to think you’re even more of a jerk if you don’t do the right thing (like apologize).

2. Alert the Necessary People

Hopefully this is not the case, but if your email fail is an off-the-charts 14 on a scale of one to 10—like you accidently sent an email full of confidential information to the wrong Chris, who happens to work at CNBC—you’re going to need to call the legal and PR departments ASAP.

Don’t do anything on your own accord until you’ve told all the necessary parties. Start with your boss, and then let him or her lead the recovery and determine who else needs to be in the loop.

3. Get it Done

If you don’t need to get PR or legal involved, but you’ve still offended a colleague or contact, now is the time to pull off that Band-Aid and apologize for it.

If it was an offense limited to one person, immediately craft an email or jump on the phone giving some context for why you said what you said and apologizing for it. The more human and transparent you can be about what you said—e.g., maybe there’s a true issue between the two of you that needs to be resolved, or maybe your newborn slept a total of nine minutes last night and you’re feeling extra cranky—the more people will be willing to forgive and move forward.

If it was an offense that went to the whole company, your first call should be HR. Give them the same context, then let them help you figure out the best way to handle it from a company perspective—that’s why they’re there! Plus, if you’ve sent something inappropriate to the whole company, they’re not going to be too happy with you anyway. The more you can ask for their help in crafting a solution, the better your reputation will survive it.

4. Let it Go

Whether you email-failed in front of one person or thousands, the people on the other end are going to look to you to set the tone for how to move forward. If you dissect it with your lunchtime friends for six months straight, you’re keeping the conversation going—which means they will, too. If you address the mistake and get back to business, people will move on with you.

And, like I’ve said before: Even when we’re working, we’re still human! We make mistakes. Things get weird. As long as you take responsibility and authentically apologize for your mistake, everyone will be on to the next weird thing in no time.