Friday, May 8, 2009

"Reply All"

Ah, the "Reply All" option on e-mails. It's so convenient. It's so helpful.

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."


Unknown said...

I'm glad that it turned out so well for you because it doesn't always turn out that way for everyone. I think that the whole 'pause before hitting send' thing would apply to blogging too... there are people out there who don't care what they put into the blogosphere or whose feelings they might hurt. I recently came upon a blog that was meant to be funny--however, the person writing it probably hurt many people's feelings--including mine. I love your writings so far from what I have seen--but I guess it all goes back to 'blogging with discipline'.

Anonymous said...

Such an important lesson, and one that I've struggled with all my life. It's so easy to be critical of someone to another person who you know shares your view. You are right, we should always write and speak as if the subject is going to hear or read it!

btw, when I was the matron at the jail, my very wise co-worker (who had worked there many years) advised me to write very respectfully to the inmates, even when they hadn't been at all respectful in what they had written to me. She said, "Always write as if your words are going to be read out loud by the judge in court!" What great advice!

Eternal Lizdom said...

Not something I've done myself but have been caught up in the mix before... I'm on our Pastoral Support Team at church and the content of our discussions is confidential. A major boo-boo was made recently on a series of e-mails regarding an open position in the church... I had no part in it but also didn't catch it when it happened... so I appreciate that sinking feeling once the error is discovered.

Call Me Cate said...

Here's an email lesson I learned the hard way - just because YOU are careful not to reply all or forward something you shouldn't, doesn't mean everyone else is. I was involved in a whole chain of emails about request from someone at work. The email was between me and management. I made a comment that I thought it was an awful lot of work for someone who couldn't even be bothered not to type in all caps so I doubted they'd do this right either if I put it in place. Management agreed and said they'd let them know. Which they did, by forwarding the entire email chain to them.

That was long. Sorry. But yes, respect is always good.

Writer Dad said...


I sent a general tweet last week that was supposed to be a DM. No bueno.

Isabella said...

I agree with you. I don't think I have ever done this, but I know of many, many situations where this has happened (I worked in the legal department of a large company. Enough said).

Thank you for sharing your lesson. :)

Bri said...

I dropped a card in the mail a couple of weeks ago to a friend, then realized his wife probably would not appreciate it. It was nothing bad, just could be taken out of context and it was. It was also received on their anniversary, after returning from the zoo sunburned, tired and cranky. Oops.

Rachel Cotterill said...

This reminds me... I've read a few times about would-be-anonymous bloggers who've been "found out" by people they've written about. I wouldn't want to write anything about someone if I wasn't happy for it to get back to them! (I try to apply this in speech, too, but it's harder to be disciplined...)

Our Scoop said...

Yes! It is also a very good way to learn not to gossip!!!! It could be very hurtful. I have heard horror stories about that kind of thing happening. Thankfully that has not happened to me with gossiping :) But I have done a reply to all that was probably better not to do!

caryn said...

UGG, I have done the same thing, luckily it wasn't something awful it just a quick silly note that didn't need to go to everyone.

Lara said...

Oh no! Hopefully it didn't cause too many problems...

I used to laugh at people that did this - until that person was me. Someone I liaise with for my job emailed the entire organisation (about 3000 employees), stating a change that was going to happen. I replied, commenting on this casually. The comment wasn't the problem.

The problem came when having received her email reminded me that I needed to chase her on something that she hadn't done. She had actually been long overdue on this thing, so I asked her for an update, stating again that it was long overdue and that people were taking it out on me.

But I sent it to the entire organisation; CEO and all. Oh, the shame!

It did get her moving though ;)

Becky said...

I've done the "reply all" thing accidentally, also - thankfully it was a silly thing that caused me only minor embarrassment. And it did teach me the same important lesson about double- and triple-checking before hitting "send". That innocent little button has caused more than its fair share of problems for people. :-)