A lesson someone my age should have learned long ago. Refrain from saying something bad about one person to another. You’ll feel better about yourself.
I learned a harder lesson yesterday. If you are going to make a negative comment about John to Chad, make sure the email goes to Chad – and not to John.
For certain, such a slip of a click, such a fast hand on the “Send” button becomes an instant disaster if the recipient of your email – the person for whom it was not intended – is not just any someone but, rather, someone whom employs you. Whose paychecks feed you. Whom you’ve known for decades and truly care about in a deep and personal way despite your momentary email lapse.
My primary and immediate feeling once I stopped smacking my head and calling myself an idiot was not fear of losing my job. Nor was it concern about getting called a few choice names myself, although such confrontations are very painful for this thin-skinned errant e-mailer.
I felt stupid.
I felt mean.
I felt small.
I felt sick that at the very least, my missive would be hurtful to its recipient.
I felt shock. I am seriously the kind of person who looks for good in people and likes people and does not make a habit of saying unkind things.
I didn’t know a body could produce so much adrenaline. And I had to do something about my error immediately. First instinct: Call the IT guy at the company and grovel at his feet, pay him exorbitant sums, offer up my firstborn if he will only, this very second, go into the system and delete the message. He wasn’t there and, anyway, in the Kingdom of Wireless, the message was already en route to his Blackberry.
My email was actually a misadvised attempt to make the person to whom I meant to send it feel better about a personal situation, but I offer it up as a fact, not a mitigating excuse for this mess.
This is what I did. Upset almost beyond words, I called the man I had insulted, catching him before he had seen the email. He answered the phone cheerfully despite the fact that he had left the office in pain from recent surgery. (He needed this now? ) “Listen,” I said. “I did something really awful, something I will not easily forgive myself for. I will totally respect you if you fire me immediately. Or if you want me to finish the current crush of work and then fire me, I’ll understand that too.”
“Barbara, what did you do?” he asked. “What could be so bad?”
“ I called you something ugly in an email to someone else and I mailed it to you. I said you are an @%&#&!!. I feel sick.”
What I felt sick about was the meanness. What I felt embarrassed about is that while he and I have had confrontations great and small over these many years, we have a love/hate, we’re-very-much-alike, sister-brother kind of relationship. And I needed him to know that whether I continued working for him or not, this petty email was not representative of my day-to-day feelings which boil down to respect, admiration, and family connectedness.
Here is what he said to me: “You are not getting fired now. You are not getting fired after the work is done. I’ve thought you are an @%&#&!! once or twice over the years. Maybe I didn’t tell you to your face, but I thought it. We all have thoughts like that some time.” And there it was, proof positive of his graciousness where he could have exploded, instant forgiveness where he could have written me off. Would I have been able to do that? I hope so.
I sent him an email last night, This one was meant for him. I told him I would not be able to sleep or forgive myself as readily as he had forgiven me. I told him it would be a long time before I indulged again in such petty meanness. And I told him that the one who acted like an @%&#&!! is me!