Dilemma: How can I save face after replying to all with a bomb of an email?
Every day, I reply to tons of emails from suppliers, co-workers, supervisors, you name it. Recently, I was in a hurry and dashed off a reply-to-all about a suggestion I'd received. I said, “This is crazy! If we pursue this idea we'll never make our deadlines, and it's going to cost a bundle. Whose idea was this anyway?” Well, it was my boss's, and he was one of the “all” who received my message.
Now my gaffe is out there — companywide. Do I apologize in person? Send another email “to all”? Or what?
— Too Embarrassed for Words, Events Coordinator
Make peace with one and all
Email provides a quick, easy way to communicate with a number of people at the same time. But it also has an impersonal quality that can lead us to forget about others' feelings and “say” things we normally wouldn't, such as dismissing an idea as “crazy.”
So, would an email retraction suffice in your case? Our readers don't think so. Instead, they suggest you:
- Meet with your boss face to face.
- Stand your ground.
- Turn a negative into a positive.
Meet with your boss face to face
Although your mistake was made via email, several of our readers think the best way out of this mess is with a personal touch.
Susan Bartlett, senior event planner for Fort Dodge Animal Health, gives step-by-step instructions for you.
“Apologize in person. Be sincere and explain that, in the future, you'll consider all team members' ideas first and then respond with comments, concerns and/or support. After the in-person apology, consider a similar apology to everyone on the email.”
An anonymous reader explains why an email won't do in this situation.
“DO NOT send a reply-all apology or retraction. In sports, a similar detrimental technique is referred to as ‘address through the media'. It's viewed as impersonal at best, and fake at worst. It may very well say to your boss that you're more afraid of consequences than truly making this situation right.
“The toughest option is too often the best option, and in this case, you know where I'm headed with that — a face-to-face, sincere ‘I'm sorry.' Hopefully, he'll laugh off your email and either tell you to forget it or write an email himself to the reply-all list, helping to put it behind you. Regardless of his response, you'll gain more respect in the long run by handling it face to face.”
An account executive suggests some humor may help.
“Quickly send a reply to all with a ‘Just kidding!' Also, apologize to your boss face to face. I've heard and read much worse. Good luck!”
Stand your ground
Other readers believe that, if your remarks — minus the snippy quality — were valid, an explanation, not an apology, is called for.
A tradeshow and event specialist believes you need to meet with your boss — but without a mea culpa.
“Sending an email saying ‘This is crazy' — and that has the possibility of being shared — is a bit overboard. What you said could have gotten back to your boss, even if you didn't reply to all. However, I don't think an apology is in order, as your boss should take all suggestions and criticisms with a grain of salt.
“Instead, go to him and say, ‘I'd like to explain my response to the email.' Have backup data showing the cost factors and why you wouldn't meet your deadlines. As a matter of fact, send your backup to all on the email.”
A marketing manager decries your language but praises your chutzpah.
“If your boss respects your opinion, I don't see a need to apologize. Your choice of words probably was a bit off, but if you truly believe this idea will ruin deadlines and results, stand by it and argue your point. A good boss shouldn't punish you for pushing back on his ideas, but should hear you out and make an informed decision on the matter.
“If he ‘pulls rank' on you and goes with his idea, at least you have it documented that you didn't favor his idea. Keep your head high. I appreciate people pushing back on ideas they believe are wrong, regardless of rank.”
A project manager also believes that, while you have to tone down your rhetoric, you should remain true to your opinion.
“In the future, try this rule: Collaboration, creativity and praise can be sent to all. That includes critical debate of an idea. Negativity or ridicule is not acceptable. Your opinion of an idea should not be swayed by who came up with it. Hold to your conviction that it is a bad idea, and explain why in a private email to your boss.”
Turn a negative into a positive
What you wrote in your email was unfortunate. But two of our readers believe you can save face and make this experience work for you — and your boss.
Debra Hindley, director of passenger sales with Japan Airlines, emphasizes that you now have the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your boss.
“Since your boss was one of the ‘all,' definitely address him. Apologize and let him know that, under different circumstances, his idea may have worked. However, given what you know, request his support to try your idea or suggestion. Then, once the project or task is completed, publicly thank him for ALL his support.”
Wendy Wilkerson, senior account executive with MC2, stresses the importance of teamwork and department success for all involved.
“Many of us have been in this situation with one accidental e-bomb or another. Make a concise, genuine apology in person, and then offer a scalable way to make your boss's idea work — if it's possible and fits into your overall marketing or messaging strategy. That way, you've apologized, taken issue with financial and resource implications, but still stroked your boss's creative ego without knocking him personally. If your organization implements the idea — even as a scaled-back or alternative version of it — give your boss the credit for the concept. Also, reply to all with the message ‘We've given this further consideration and here's how we think it can work.'
“If his idea won't work at all, offer another solution to whatever problem or challenge your boss was trying to address. Include specific reasons why your idea would be better, including budget and resource ROI and/or savings. At the end of the day, your boss looks good to his bosses when his department is on time, on budget and on message. Making him look good — and enhancing your marketing results — will go a long way in making it right. You can still shine, but a little humility goes a long way.”
Your email was a big mistake, but it's not the end of the world. Apologize to your boss. If you regret your wording but not your opinion, explain your position to him and, if possible, turn this into a win-win situation. You can't take back what you said, but how you handle your faux pas will make all the difference.