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Readers share e-mail faux pas

Jan 06, 20034 mins
Enterprise Applications

Before the holidays, Buzz asked readers to submit their favorite “embarrassing e-mail story.”

Dozens of you stepped up with examples both amusing and painful. As might be expected, a few have been judged unfit for this family trade publication . . . especially the one that involved an Australian gent, his girlfriend, the girlfriend’s “mum” and an e-mail account that both women shared. What follows is a sampling of the best of the rest:

Here’s one that etiquette experts would have trouble with on a number of scores.

“As an HP OpenView consultant, I’m a subscriber to the ovforum mail reflector along with 2,000-plus other people all over the world,” Rolf Frydenberg writes. “One of those other people missed out when he sent e-mail invitations to his wedding: Not only his closest friends received it, but the ovforum list as well. Some of us (for example, here in Norway), sent a reply – to the list, of course – that we thought it was a bit too far to travel, as the wedding was taking place in California. But a lot of people thanked the guy for the invitation and said they’d be there!”

A public relations professional shares this tale of candor gone awry, on the condition that the parties involved not be named.

“A client [not one of mine] asked for a rather time-consuming research project . . . in fact, it became kind of a boondoggle,” he writes. “So when the junior staff member working on it forwarded the results to the team leader, she slugged the e-mail ‘Your dumb-ass project.’ Unfortunately, the team leader simply forwarded the e-mail to the client without changing the subject line.”

A handful of submissions involved spell-checkers run amok.

“The executive vice president of a large corporation I once worked for asked me to create an e-mail explaining a new company policy,” Allen Schuerholz writes. “I did so, and the VP and I traded the e-mail several times trying to get it just right. During one of these iterations I noticed that the spell-checker had suggested a change for the VP’s name to something rather humorous. I let the spell-checker change it and the VP and I had a good laugh. Unfortunately, when I sent the final version of the e-mail to 10,000 employees, I forgot to change the VP’s name back. So, instead of receiving an e-mail from Loni Springer, they received one from Loin Sprinkler.”

Several anecdotes involved the oh-so-easy mistake of pulling the wrong name out of your address book.

“During the recent telecom crash, I was involved in executing a major downsizing,” recalls a reader who asked not to be named. “In e-mailing one of the near-final plans late one night, I accidentally selected the wrong ‘Jim’ in my address list – instead of sending the layoff list to my divisional vice president, I sent it to one of our most troublesome and underperforming employees. This individual would have been on the layoff list even if it were only one person long. . . . You can imagine the painful phone call I had to make, asking this usually uncooperative person to please not disclose the news until the entire plan was executed. To his credit, he did cooperate, but I think it was mostly due to the generous severance they all received.”

This next one took a toll on a fellow named Marv, whose only involvement in the tale is that he manages a fuel depot.

“When a fuel station for our county’s public works department had to be repaired, the administrator in charge of the systems put out an e-mail stating that it was closed and all road crews would have to fill up at one of the other depots,” Stan Bradshaw writes. “When the fuel system was brought back online, she sent this message to all county employees: ‘Marv has gas now.'”

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