Except when it's not.
Have you ever clicked "Reply All" in error? It's not usually a big deal.
Except when it is.
A few years ago I was on the board of a small local nonprofit. I was in charge of communicating with a company who was subleasing space from us, as we attempted to renegotiate the lease. Unfortunately, the relationship between the two companies had been rocky.
One day I clicked that "Reply All" button so that I could communicate with the rest of the board, updating them on negotiations. I forgot that our tenant was also included in the e-mail. Shortly after clicking "Send," I gasped, realizing my mistake. "I can't believe it happened again!" I cried.
You see, not long before this incident, another member of our board had made the same mistake. And her e-mail gave her opinion of our tenant in none-too-glowing terms. It hadn't exactly improved our relationship. And I'd made the same error.
Quickly, I read over the e-mail I'd sent. It was respectful. I'd given our tenants the benefit of the doubt despite our communication difficulties. And fairly quickly it became evident that my mistake had actually been a positive one. The tenants realized that someone on our board wanted to treat them with respect, even as we negotiated.
I'd like to say that my fortuitous mistake fixed the relationship between the two groups. It didn't. Our tenants found a different space, and we parted ways. But my communication with them remained professional and polite, and I felt great about that.
I was left with an important lesson. Treating opponents with respect, to their faces and behind their backs, is a fantastic way to foster communication.
Oh...and it's always a good idea to pause before clicking "Send."