Five ways to salvage your worst email blunders

We've all been there. You're in a rush, tired, not paying attention to your screen and before you know it you've made an embarrassing spelling mistake in an email. Worse, you've hit "reply all" and fired off a message to the very person you were criticising. Realisation dawns seconds after you've pressed send.

You freeze in horror, burn with shame and then go into full-on panic. What to do? Dare you admit your mistake?

It was a condundrum faced last week by the poor person at UK film company Bafta, tasked with emailing the 225 unsuccessful applicants to a scheme to boost the representation of female directors.

"Thank you for your application," it began. "With almost 250 applicants, the selection panel had some very difficult decisions to make. We regret to inform you that you have not been successful."

But instead of putting the email addresses of the rejected women in the hidden "Bcc" bar, Bafta copied them all in plain sight, revealing their identities.

Luckily for Bafta, the unsuccessful candidates turned the blunder into a triumph. Director Alicia MacDonald was the first to "reply all", writing "Hard luck everyone!", before others piled in, consoling one another and mocking the mistake.

The women started a Twitter hashtag #BaftasLucky225 and were busy forming their own support network. "Never has rejection come with such a silver lining," tweeted director Kat Wood.

Such turnarounds don't happen every day, of course, but an email mishap need not leave you rocking to and fro in a darkened room.

Here are five common email blunders, and how best to recover from them.


1. If auto-correct has embarrassed you

In this era of smartphones, the dangers of auto-correct are well-documented. Writing "horny" instead of "hungry" might cause you shame, but it's more than likely that the recipient has made similar errors. Harder to explain away is the addition of a rogue emoji, as discovered by the woman who sent an email of condolence on the death of a friend's parent, only to have her sign-off – "see you at the funeral" – completed by a skull and crossbones. Send a calm follow-up, explaining that you were in a hurry and that your phone got the better of you.

2. If you've written the wrong name

The sooner you notice, the better. Respond quickly and briefly, apologising for your mistake. Don't dismiss it too lightly, as people can be offended, especially if it suggests a misunderstanding of their culture. But there is no need to grovel. It happens to everyone and – if their name lends itself to a mis-type, like the office PA constantly called Turkey, instead of Tuckey – they might well be used to it.

3. If you accidentally send your boss a kiss

Ending an email with "X" is the most natural thing in the world, except when the recipient is your CEO. Pity the person who sent their boss two lines of "Zzz" in an email about tiredness, only to have them auto-corrected to kisses. The only options are to laugh it off and blame technology, ensuring all follow-up emails are exactingly professional, even if it comes back with an "X".

4. If you hit 'reply all'

This tends to be irritating more than anything: when you accidentally reveal to the entire company what menu choices you would prefer at the staff summer do. The best solution is to send a light-hearted email to excuse your clumsiness.

But it can quickly escalate if people start hitting "reply all" to join in a long conversation. The best thing is not to get involved. Step away from your keyboard, allowing everyone to calm down.

5. If you send an unkind message to its subject

There's nothing so likely to make your body seize up with pure panic. You write a nasty message about someone, intending to send it to a friend, but accidentally forward it to the person you're discussing. A face-to-face apology is essential, especially if you work together. Ask to speak in private as soon as possible. If the email was triggered by a specific incident, it's probably a good time to explain why you were angry in the first place. Set out your frustrations calmly and see it as an opportunity to rectify any difficulties. Or just go into lockdown, delete your social media accounts and screen calls.

The Sunday Telegraph, London