Biz Tips: What To Do If You Accidentally Hit ‘Reply All’ At Work

News & Views | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 03/20/2015 | 03:45 PM EDT

You don't need Olivia Pope to fix this office scandal

Ever sent an email thread to the wrong person and subsequently panicked that your reputation at work was blown for good?

Sending the wrong correspondence to the wrong person--especially one that’s potentially offensive--can cause one to freak all the way out. But there is a way to handling such a scandal, and you won’t need Olivia Pope to fix it.

The Harvard Business Review has just the solution: own up to it.

While it will absolutely suck to have to confront someone you may very well have burned in an email (or maybe you inadvertently shared some classified information), not addressing the problem head-on could result in far more dire consequences.

HBR says owning your mistake is the only sure way to righting your wrong.


Jeanne Brett, Director of the Dispute Resolution Research Center at Kellogg School of Management, tells HBR that approaching the offended colleague quickly and directly makes for great damage control. Also, be sure to do it by phone or in person--you don’t want to risk making the same mistake twice via email.

Brett suggests you say something like, “I’m sorry I did it and even more sorry that I hurt/embarrassed/humiliated/showed disrespect for you,” then add something to the effect like, “I spoke/wrote without thinking and if I could take it back I would. I can only ask you to forgive me.’’

Brett says the last sentence, in particular, turns the situation back on the other person and seeks forgiveness.

But be sure the apology is clear and direct. Save the “I’m sorry if I offended you” for your social circles. In the workspace you want to be clear and take full ownership. Your reputation and your brand is everything.

While apologizing sucks, maintaining your work integrity is crucial. Just be sure not to repeat your offense, because you may not be so lucky the next time.

 (Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images)

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