How to take back a nasty email

If you’ve ever wanted to know how to properly dodge a bullet or wrestle free from an alligator then you could do a lot worse than pick up an instant classic, The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Through a mix of diagrams and real tips sourced by Navy SEALS, stuntmen, and other authorities, the book manages to be straightforward while talking you though some unlikely and absurd situations, and that’s what makes it funny.

Decidedly unfunny, however, is that moment when you realize that you just sent an angry email in haste or have sent a message to the wrong person.  If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation, you know that nothing quite matches the chill and the horror that comes over you, making you wish you could instead wrestle an alligator or dodge that bullet.

Speaking of dodging a bullet, the Worst-Case book has spawned sequels as well as a highly entertaining Worst-Case Scenarios Web site where you can glean a bunch of tips for free, including advice on how to take back a nasty email. Using your email system’s recall function doesn’t always work, as you may have found when someone has tried to recall a message they’ve sent to you, at which point you have, of course, been all the more curious and eager to read it before it can be recalled.

There are also free software programs that might allow you to retract the message, or, the Worst-Case site suggests, you could try delete the message from the recipient’s computer:

“As soon as you realize your mistake, call the recipient and send him on a fool’s errand, or have the recipient paged to another area. Go to his desk. Kneel so you are not easily visible. Open his e-mail program and delete the message. Check the “trash” mailbox to make sure it was fully deleted and not just moved. Delete it permanently.”

With Beans does not condone this particular approach, but we are comfortable with the Worst-Case site’s more preventative suggestion that “it is best to queue outgoing e-mail in your outbox rather than send it immediately. This gives you the opportunity to pause and reflect on your wording, and then change or delete the message before it is sent.” In other words, let yourself cool off, or just delete that fantastic but doomed-to-be-misrouted off-color comment before it leaves your outbox. If it’s that funny, take it outside the office.

Image source: Petr Kratochvil

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