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5 Common Email Mistakes That Hurt You Professionally


Most jobs require a great volume of email. I have yet to meet someone, no matter how meticulous they are, who hasn't made at least one mistake in the process. Sometimes in our desire to reply quickly or to just get through our clogged inboxes, we send an email that we immediately regret. These email mistakes, no matter how big or small, can hurt you professionally. But, you can bounce back from them!

Here are the 5 most common email mistakes people make and ways that you can fix them and prevent them for happening again:

Misspelling someone’s name or using the wrong name completely. Double check and triple checking your email before you send it is very important and you think you've mastered this, but you can still miss this! Sometimes the person's name is in their email, but your mind "edits" it to a name you're more familiar with. Before you even begin typing your email and definitely before you hit send on an email to someone new, check the spelling of the person's name by finding their LinkedIn or Social Media. A quick google search may even give you some information about them you might want to reference in the rest of your note.

Attaching the wrong file. This can happen often, especially if you have different versions of the file saved. To fix this, immediately own up to the mistake, apologize, and send along the right file. There are two ways to prevent this mistake. First, you can preview the file before you send it. If you're sending the file through Gmail, download the file you've attached just to make sure it's the right one (this has saved me many times). Second, organizing your files is key! Organizing your files will save you time and make your life easier in the future. Utilize folders and properly name all of your documents. When you're making edits and want to keep multiple copies, label each version differently (e.g. v1, v2, final).

Clicking ‘Reply All’ to a really large email list. I have been on the receiving end of this horror and it's one of the most annoying things about emails. Why? Well, once you've replied to everyone this usually leads one of the many recipients to also reply all saying something along the lines, "For future reference, don't click reply all." To prevent this, if you're sending the email out, BCC everyone so that no one can 'Reply All' and keep their inboxes clutter free. If you're the person that replied to everyone, send a quick note apologizing and leave it alone. Don't keep the mass email chain going.

Sending an email prematurely. I've done this a few times and it's the worst. The email is filled with spelling and grammar mistakes, or you haven't even written down your whole thought yet, so it's half an email. Before you start typing a draft of the email, open up Notes or Word and write it there. This eliminates the possibility of even mistakenly sending the email before it's done. Through trial and error, I’ve also learned that it’s easier and safer to place the email address of the intended recipient into the subject line until the email is ready to go. You can also disable the 'Enter to Send' feature. This is best for texting and other less formal messaging apps but when it comes to emails this can lead to a mess, it's also the main reason I've sent messages prematurely.

Sending an email to the wrong person. This can vary in severity depending on the content and recipients. We've all read stories about people speaking badly about someone and accidentally sending it to the person they were talking about. Bounce back by swiftly apologizing to the person you've sent the email to, both digitally and in-person.

It can be less harmful if the content of your email is completely irrelevant to the person you've sent it to. Usually, the email address is wrong because they have a similar name as the intended person or are from the same company. Another reason is if you genuinely didn't know who to send the email to and it was just a shot in the dark. If it's the former simply apologize and send it to the right person. If it's the latter, still apologize but use this as an opportunity to find the right person.

But what if the content is really confidential or proprietary and is shared with the wrong recipient? First, check to see if you can recall the email. If it's too late, ask the recipient to delete the email immediately, then alert your manager and proceed based on your company's policy. This mistake can have painful consequences. To prevent this, simply don't do it.

The Big Fix

Even with significant care and caution, mistakes still happen, that's why being able to unsend your email is amazing and an actual possibility. Follow these instructions if you use:

Gmail: This is already available if you have a google account, but first you have to enable the “Undo Send” feature. Do this by going to settings, then select 'Enable ‘Undo Send.’' From there you can customize the cancellation period. The only problem with this feature is that Gmail gives you a small window to correct your error, your only options range from 10 to 30 seconds, so think fast.

Outlook: “Recall This Message” is your go to feature for this problem and is immediately available if you use Outlook. However, it won’t work if the:

  • Recipient doesn't use Outlook

  • Recipient isn't logged into Outlook at the time you're trying to recall it

  • Email is unopened in the standard Outlook, not the web app

  • Email hasn't been unopened at all

  • Recipient hasn't already disabled the feature

Your digital communications send messages about your professionalism as much as anything you do "live." Take care in your email communication and when you make a mistake, fix it as soon as possible.

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