5 Worst Email Faux Pas & How to Fix Them

Jun 15, 2011
6 Min Read

In today’s highly virtual workplace, most of us use email on a daily basis. Most of the time, it is a quick, convenient, and efficient way to communicate with others. But it also tends to be vulnerable to all types of conflict not present in face-to-face discussions. It can be tough when we are faced with having to respond to a rude email. While some emails are flat-out rude and malicious, most of the time tension in electronic communication is simply due to misunderstanding and assumptions that can be fixed with… more communication! As email author, seek to proactively avoid these five major email snafus. As email recipient, if you can manage the conflict, you, your career, your team, and your organization will be ahead of the game.


1. The Botched Forward

Looks like: Sender meant to forward your conversation to another person, along with a slightly sarcastic comment, but instead they hit reply and sent it to you.

Human error: Putting negativity in writing. Hitting send before double-checking the recipients.

Look at it this way: Now you know what they really think! Also, this could be an opportunity to fix a strained relationship.

The fix: Reply back with a simple, nonemotional, nonconfrontational message. (i.e., “I think I received this by accident.”) Simply let them know you know. The ball is now in their court.

2. The Reply All

Looks like: A never ending conversation.

Human error: Involving everyone in the conversation because we don’t want anyone to feel left out.

Look at it this way: Overcommunication is almost always better than undercommunication.

The fix: Step away from the email. Don’t add to it if you can help it. In an hour (day?) or two when the communication has subsided, skim the most recent email in its entirety and delete all the others. If it is really excessive and is interfering with your productivity, set up a rule in Outlook to automatically move all messages with that subject title to a folder as they come in (bypassing your inbox!).

3. The Emotional Hijack

Looks like: Someone gets offended, and quickly fires of a sassy email full of attitude, scorn, and disrespect.

Human error: Making decisions and hitting send while the emotional portion of the brain has taken over. Something in the original email triggered this defensive response.

Look at it this way: Logical, rational thought was not the driver of this situation. The intent was likely self-protective rather than aggressive.

The fix: Hold the emails! The emotions must subside before reasoning will work.

4. The Misunderstanding

Looks like: All parties involved are not on the same page.

Human error: Recipient has inferred meaning (possibly using faulty reasoning) and is responding based on assumptions, as opposed to reacting to the information explicitly stated in the email. The sender may have written a sentence than can be interpreted two or more ways due to lack of facial cues and body language.

Look at it this way: This is a chance to get together and not only clarify this one miscommunication, but take action to prevent more in the future.

The fix: Talk it out or switch to a synchronous modality of communication, such as instant messaging.

5. The Unread Message

Looks like: You send a thought-out email but the response you receive has you wondering whether the recipient read past the first sentence.

Human error: The recipient did not take the time to read the message in its entirety. But the sender may have contributed if they lack conciseness and clarity in their writing.

Look at it this way: This is their way of asking for clarification.

The fix: Make your email shorter, word your message differently, and provide an overview or take-home point in the first sentence.

You may have noticed a trend here. Communication takes two and you’ll be playing it safe if you assume you are at fault first before blaming others.

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