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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hoof in Mouth

So a good friend of mine, a reporter for my old paper back in Milwaukee, did a recent blog posting about accidental messages, like when you accidentally send an email to someone you're talking about.

It was pretty funny and made me wonder if there is protocol to reacting to such screw-ups.

Human nature being what it is, I can imagine that most of us go to an extreme: either bluster and denial or we shrink under our desks and hope the recipient of the misdirected message doesn't notice.

I've done this at work - been walking with other reporters as we all griped about a particular editor or a particular assignment and just as I was about to wax "poetic" about the person, he or she walked around the corner and I was forced to adjust a la "That rat bas...., that rat bass stole the bait right off my fishing pole this weekend, and ruined everything!"

Once, a few years ago - before I was married or even dating seriously - I met a rep for a major record label, and she invited me to attend a private CD release/listening party for a popular male R&B singer and do a write up. She said it was a casual setting, so I could bring a date or a friend or two. Alas, I was dateless at that time, so on the assumption that there would be women in attendance I invited a couple of buddies.

Well, after talking w/the rep on the phone a few times we finally met in person, and I was stunned. She was very pretty.

So as I'm driving away from my meeting with her I call my buddy to tell him about the face to face. I'm describing things to him, when my other line beeps. So I switch over and it's her calling to say she forgot to give me some vital info. I tell her to hold one minute so I can hang up with the person on the other line. And I switch back over to my buddy and rant and rave like a teenager that the hot record label woman is on the phone. I go on and on and on like I've never seen an attractive woman before, and then I hear "James?" It wasn't my buddy. Voice was too high.

She had heard the whole thing. Talk about embarrassing. Imagine if I'd been ranting about how I hated her appearance or her voice or I thought she was dumb as dirt or something.

Lucky for me she had a sense of humor...and pity, and didn't demand that I explain myself. I suspect that had something to do with all my words - however immature - being complimentary.

So how do you salvage things when the subject of a message accidentally hears it or reads it?


  • Politicians do best when they apologize immediately, and I think that works effectively with mere mortals too. In this case however, I think you should have asked her out immediately. Women actually find honesty a very refreshing turn on, and I doubt she would have been able to resist.

    By Blogger wordsonwater, at 4:28 PM  

  • This has never personally happened to ME, of course, but one modern phenomenon that has gotten colleagues in trouble is not watching who's copied on e-mail while "responding to all." I've seen coworkers blasted while the blaster has not realized that the "blastee" is one of the recipients. People, never assume you know who the entire audience of forwarded e-mail is unless you scroll all the way down. What starts off as FYI doesn't always stay that way.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 7:58 PM  

  • Yep
    MY girlfriend once overheard me on the Phone describing her best friend as Drop Dead Gorgeous and Sexy and Kind and Sweet!
    Mind that I was trying to get her friend a date with my friend.

    No Matter!!
    Guess what did not happen for a few Days at our place!
    O h Well LIfe's Tough

    By Blogger roberto e, at 10:44 PM  

  • I've done the email thing. It was bad. Talking some crap about the person and then sending it to them accidentally is not a good thing to do. Luckily it wasn't a work thing, but it wasn't good nonetheless. It was smoothed over with some apologetic overtures, but it still gets brought up from time to time and I end up feeling like that rat bass who stole your bait.

    By Blogger Melissa, at 10:50 PM  

  • LOL!!! You know what to do: JOIN REHAB!!!! :-)

    By Blogger Manola Blablablanik, at 12:46 AM  

  • I think I would say - "I'm sorry I was so harsh and critical, but I meant what I said." I try to never say something about someone I wouldn't be willing to tell them to their face. But obviously, my in-person delivery would be way more tactful than what I say about them to someone else.

    Still, in moments of anger I say some pretty awful stuff, so I hope I don't make this kind of mistake.

    By Blogger Tere, at 11:02 AM  

  • Hmm. I wanted to comment but it was too long to put in comments so I posted it instead:

    By Blogger Freddie, at 12:43 PM  

  • As an e-mail administrator for a large corporation I see this happen far too often, usually when I'm called with a frantic "Oh my god, I just e-mailed X's annual review to Y! Can you go in and delete it for me before Y get's back from lunch?"

    On a more personal note I had a member of my staff send me a rather... personal text message one weekend. It seems that in addition to working for a guy named Kevin, she was also dating a guy named Kevin, and got our entries in the address book mixed up. Needless to say, she was rather embarassed on Monday morning.

    By Blogger mkh, at 2:37 PM  

  • So do you make sure that everyone knows that you are known for putting your foot in it - right up to the knee - or what?

    Developing the habit of never saying anything about anyone you wouldn't happily say to their face might come in here. Also 'if you can't say something nice then say nothing' - with the usual caveats.

    Might make for a reputation as 'boring', but it might also make for few embarrassing moments.

    By Anonymous bronchitikat, at 5:42 AM  

  • At least it was complimentary... she was probably flattered by it!

    By Anonymous ChrisA, at 8:42 PM  

  • I've definitely done it. I once ranted & raved on my personal blog about my boyfriend's roommate's horrible girlfriend. She didn't read it, but the roommate sure did! I didn't have to deal with his reaction, but it was honestly the way I felt and didn't care if he or she knew it. I think he was worried about her seeing it, but seeing as how she didn't have my screen name, she wouldn't have. Ah well, for the sake of my boyfriend's living space peace, I deleted the entry.

    By Anonymous Adlib, at 2:57 PM  

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