What to Say When… You Would Give Anything to Retract an Email Message

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversation here.

English: message Icon, Post with wings.

We’ve all been there. You draft a private email message but accidentally send it to the whole group. Your mind races as you recall what you said and how it will be received by friends or coworkers who you were not supposed to have copied on the message. You might try to retract or recall the email message but you have no success. When you are the sender of an unintended email message, what should you say?

Here is a successful email mea culpa that was delivered by Dennis Hooper, a leadership coach.

Dear friends–
I apologize deeply that I mistakenly sent a personal e-mail to you.  I do not know how it occurred, but I’m sure that something I did caused the problem.  I assume responsibility for the mistake, though I have spent thirty minutes troubleshooting what happened—and I still do not know what I did.
I believe it was associated with adding the person to my e-mail distribution list—something clearly occurred that I had not intended.
I realized the problem because two individuals cared enough about me and about the people I serve to notify me of the error.
As you can imagine, this is deeply embarrassing to me.  It would be bad enough if I were to have done this with anyone, but I am especially embarrassed that it happened with someone with whom I have yet to build any substantial relationship.  I will seek her forgiveness, and I ask for yours.
Please just delete my errant message to you.  I apologize deeply for any inconvenience that I may have caused you.  I will work to ensure that this does not happen again.

Dennis Hooper Your Leadership Coach www.buildingfutureleaders.com

I replied with this:
Hi Dennis-
This is a perfectly lovely apology! You covered several types of apologies and you didn’t make any excuses. I think others could learn from your example. I wanted to ask if I might have your permission to remove your identifying information and then share it with others (as on my blog), please.  If not, I understand.
My husband and I were just chatting about an error like this that he made yesterday.  It happens to the best of us!
Dennis kindly replied that I could post his apology with his name and website included. We invite you to use his message as a sample for your own apology emails. Good luck!
Handset configuration can cause problems sendi...
Your Turn:
Have you ever had to apologize for an email or texting mistake? How did things work out?
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  • Wanda Swain

    Jennifer, I agree with you that Dr. Hooper’s apology is lovely. I’m reminded of how situations – i.e. former President Clinton’s denial and later confession – can impact relationships and trust/trustworthiness when not addressed properly. People are eager to forgive when people they trust sincerely acknowledge their mistakes. The late Dr. Stephen R. Covey teaches that when we apologize (bow) we should bow low. The presentation of any excuse after “I’m sorry” negates the sincerely of taking ownership of one’s actions. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jennifer Thomas

    Hi Wanda- Great thoughts. I love your words from Dr. Covey.

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