Oops…What do you do when you get an email you were not supposed to read?

Oops…What do you do when you get an email you were not supposed to read?

I recall many, many years ago in my office there was an uproar because one person sent an email to “reply all” when he was talking very negatively about the original email sender.  I laughed at that situation because I mightily expected more of those to come and it is always awkward and a bit enlightening.  It was enlightening to see what people actually thought and how they then reacted when confronted with how things really are.  Both parties in that incident recovered and moved on because it was a silly comment about a person’s taste in restaurants.  However, not all emails sent in error are that innocuous.

A couple of years ago, I received an email that let me know that I had been backstabbed by someone I had trusted.  They had purposefully went against my wishes in a vein to hurt another team member.  Such a move showed me the true heart of that person. That relationship never recovered. I could never trust that person again and all our interactions thereafter were fake when they did manage to occur.

When something is in writing like that you just can’t forget it. It is almost worse than eavesdropping a hallway conversation about you. The email lingers and was purposefully written while a conversation could happen in the heat of the moment. A written trail of deception gets to one’s mind and soul a bit more.

This past week, I received an email that contained an email trail questioning my intentions in a way that was silly and uninformed and was contributing to a group think mindset that is not healthy for a workplace.  I did not ignore the email. I did not reply to the email as many people tend to do in such a situation.  I called everyone in to meet with me and I addressed point by point their erroneous claims.  They were in shock that I called them out on their assertions to their face. They were obviously a group of people that are not used to face-to-face confrontation. They are what most of us would call passive aggressive and I was what most would refer to as the “direct New Yorker”.   It seemed that they had expected me to either ignore the email or to attack through email which would have afforded them a way to continue to feel self-righteous. By confronting them face-to-face they were left with either having to tell me to my face what they were falsely asserting or back down.  They were for the most part rather sheepish as I went point by point.

At the end of the interaction one of them noted I had guts and they appreciated that. Another noted they were grateful that I had brought things out in the open and appreciated that I was a New Yorker.  I am not too sure I believe that but I will tell you that I slept well that night. There was not further tit for tat emails or lingering animosity. We did not hug it out as they do in the television show Entourage but people clearly knew where I stood. That is at times the best one can hope for when you “overhear” an interaction you are not meant to that is about you.  I am sure going forward they will be vigilant about how they put on that email CC line and I will not have to mistakenly see what they are saying about me. Ignorance can be bliss, but when is forced to not be ignorant it is best to fully bring things out in the open. Your mind will be free.


3 replies »

  1. I have had this happen where a friend wrote me an email blasting another friend and mistakenly sent it to the friend instead of me! So embarrassing and so confusing since they ended up forgiving the friend but blaming me, for some reason, even though I had no part in it other than receiving the email unsolicited. Ah, the mysteries of human interaction!


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