NEW YORK (MainStreet) — With deadlines to meet and clients to woo, working professionals must be fast and efficient with electronic correspondence via email, text and chat. Unfortunately, speed and accuracy rarely go hand in hand, especially when navigating ever-shrinking keyboards. Typing something inappropriate — or just downright strange — and sending it to a business contact is bound to happen at some point.
Here’s how to recover quickly and professionally so you can get back to business as usual:
Try to catch it before they catch it
If you see the offending error once you’ve sent the email, go ahead and acknowledge your mistake.
“If you notice it, go ahead and say something,” says Judith Kallos, founder of Net Manners and an email etiquette expert. “They’re going to notice it, so it can’t just be ignored forever.”
When you see it, even if it’s something major — such as accidentally sending an “I love you” message to a co-worker instead of your spouse — don’t get overly stressed out, says Peggy Duncan, personal productivity expert and founder of The Digital Breakthroughs Institute in Charlotte, N.C.
“Apologize and explain to them what happened,” Duncan says. “At first it might seem like the end of the world, but everyone is using email, chat and text these days and they know the problems that can arise. The person on the other end of your message may have been in your exact same situation before.”
With that said, some people are more sensitive than others. If you know the person you sent the message to may be prone to getting upset over something like this, you may need to go beyond the normal apology.
“You may want to buy them a cup of coffee the next day or something. Have a nice conversation with them, apologize and move on,” Duncan says.
Pick up the phone
When making your apology, sometimes it’s better to use a different medium — something other than email or text — to say you’re sorry. The phone can seem more sincere than another electronic message, especially if the error was a big one, such as accidentally using a curse word in an email to a client, Kallos says.
“You have to eat a big portion of humble pie. There’s no way around it,” Kallos says. “When you make that mistake, call the person or, if they’re in the same office, walk over to them and let them see your cheeks turn red and have that face-to-face interaction.”
When you make more of an effort to apologize besides just sending a quick “Oops!” text, there’s no way people can hold your mistake against you, Kallos says.
“People live on their devices, we’ve all done things like this, but when you make that extra effort to say you’re sorry, it makes a big difference and eliminates any awkwardness.”
Apologizing in person or via phone certainly won’t be easy, but if your business or a relationship with a client is at stake, it’s the only option.
“If you said something in an email to a client that was inappropriate, you have to do damage control,” she says. “People may think it’s ‘old school’ to make that call, but this is your livelihood. With some things, you can’t just send a text and hope it all resolves like magic.”
Kallos likens making a call or an in-person overture to sending a hand-addressed thank-you note after an interview.
“If you really want that job, you’re going to go the extra mile and send a personal note. If you don’t really care that much, you’re going to send a quick email saying ‘Thanks.’ When you’re sincere, it shows.”
Don’t be flippant and try to play it down
It’s not up to the person who messed up to determine how big of a deal the mistake was, Kallos cautions.
“Oh that typo? It’s not like it was that big of a deal,” should never come out of your mouth, she says. You’re not the one who gets to react to the mistake — the only thing you need to say is “I’m sorry.”
When you make your apology, be careful how you phrase things.
“There are a lot of really lame apologies flying around all over the place nowadays,” she says, adding that phrases like “Oh, my bad” and “Not cool,” don’t sound like genuine regrets.
“Humility is a really difficult thing for a lot of people, but this is a case where you have to show you’re genuinely sorry.”
Don’t bring it up again
Once you’ve made your mistake and apologized, don’t continue to beat a dead horse, Kallos advises. It’s time to move on and ensure that all your future correspondence with the person is error free.
“It’s best to just let these things fade into the past. It wasn’t a good thing. When you’re working on building new, positive impressions, there’s simply no need to bring up old, negative ones,” she says.
Also, don’t try to force levity in the situation when there isn’t any.
“If they’re joking about it, then you can joke about it. But if it’s something that offended someone, it’s nothing to make light of, no matter how much time has passed.”
If the person who received the email keeps bringing up your mistake, just keep smiling — even if you find it an embarrassment, Kallos advises.
“If they have to have the last word, then let them have the last word. Sometimes there’s nothing more you can say, so you just keep your mouth shut.”
— By Kathryn Tuggle for MainStreet