Common Communication Gaffes: Oops…and How to Avoid Doing It Again

We’ve all done it — accidentally sent an email that we immediately wanted to retrieve.  In the world of instant gratification that we now inhabit, where we’re expected to respond in the blink of an eye and be available 24/7, it’s bound to happen. Case in point: the publicist who recently replied all to an email calling a blogger a bitch, not realizing that said blogger was one of the recipients. Oops!

We also recently read a post on Mediabistro about a young job-seeker who emailed a cover letter (of sorts) to a PR firm from his/her iPhone that was filled with embarrassing mistakes.

We’re not perfect either. In our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work, Jessica talks about the time she called a (now former) editor at one of her company’s magazines a jerk and accidentally included him on the email (sometimes multitasking is not a good idea!). So what can you do in these kinds of circumstances?

1) Apologize for your actions (aka stupidity). Honesty truly is the best policy when you screw up. After Jessica did the slow-mo “Nooooo!” once that email had gone into cyberspace, she picked up the phone and called the guy she had badmouthed, fessed up and said she was sorry. (By the way, he hadn’t even seen the email yet!  Awkward!) They ended up having a heart-to-heart conversation about how her staff felt he was treating them and he had had no idea he was coming across like, well, a jerk. Luckily, the situation led to the smoothing over of a bumpy relationship. But it easily could have made it worse — and it was certainly not the way she would have done it if she had had her druthers.

2) Try not to exacerbate the problem. In the case of the publicist mentioned earlier, he did apologize (sort of) for calling the blogger a name but then proceeded to lecture her about how she conducted business. Even if she wasn’t the most pleasant person to deal with, getting into a pissing match over email when you’ve already insulted someone is never a good idea. Sometimes it’s best to keep any further venomous statements to yourself (or at least keep them off email).

3) Take a breath before hitting send. In the days before email and texting took over the world, people used to write (or type) a letter, read it, rip it up and start over or put it away in a drawer and read it again a day later to make sure it was worth sending. Nowadays, we are responding before we’ve even finished reading and, often, it gets us in trouble, especially if we are annoyed or offended by something sent to us. Try not to get trigger-happy and hit send before reading your response aloud (or even better, have someone else read it) to make sure it doesn’t come across the wrong way. Keep in mind that tone can easily get lost or misconstrued over email so it’s easy for the recipient to find it harsher than it was intended to be (or not!).

4) Add names last. A great trick when writing an email or responding to one is to either remove the names from or not plug them into the To: or Cc: line until you’re done writing and re-reading your note, particularly if it’s about a potentially sensitive topic or being sent to your boss, client or other important people. That will help prevent an email from being launched into cyberspace before it’s finished or read for tone and content.  If it’s too much of a pain to retype everyone’s email address in a “Reply All” situation, write the response in a Word doc, then paste it into the body of your email so you can read and edit it before accidentally sending it to an army of people. Speaking of which, only include the people who really need to get your response on the email.  There’s nothing worse than being cc’ed on a long email chain that isn’t relevant to you.

5) Talk to people. We rely so heavily these days on electronic communication, even emailing the people who sit in the office or cubicle right next to ours. Once in a while, get up, stretch your legs and walk over to colleagues so you can have a face-to-face conversation.  There’s much less risk for misinterpretation and a little human interaction now and then is good for the soul!

What communication gaffes have you experienced, either on the giving or receiving end?  Share with us here, on Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).

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