Have you ever received an email that was intended for someone else? It happens fairly often in this world of electronic communication. It’s usually pretty embarrassing for the person who sent it.
A few years ago, I worked in an accounting firm that had set up inter-office email groups. One was for easily sending an email to all the partners, one was for the all the CPAs, one for all employees in each division, one for the whole company. The head of the software/consulting division sent an email to ALL that was intended for the partners. The email included specifics on his salary and another person in his division. There were murmurings for several weeks about the salary amounts and his perceived incompetency, which had already been the topic of discussion in our office. Oops.
A few months ago, I received an email from the payroll software consultant our company uses thanking us for purchasing consulting hours for the upcoming year. The consultant had copied her office manager and boss on the email to let them know of our agreement. The boss used “reply all” to ask her a question about her work with another client. There was no direct harm, but it added to my frustration with the lack of professionalism from their office. Oops.
A few days ago, I received a message from someone that puzzled me. I had to look at it a few times to realize what it meant. I was not the intended recipient. I was the subject of the message, and it did not contain compliments. I was hurt. Ouch.
I’ve been thinking since then about the effects of our words: how words are interpreted, how messages are received by others – both the intentional and unintentional messages, and more. A well-timed word of encouragement can turn a bad day into a good day. An ill-timed negative word can turn a good day into a bad day.
I know there are people who purposely say mean things to try to tear a person down, but I think that most of the time, hurtful words are spoken in haste without thinking about the effects.
I often hear advice about electronic communication recommending that the sender pause before sending, considering whether the words written will convey the intended meaning, and verifying that the recipient is correct.
Maybe we should also pause before speaking.