Do I pretend I didn't read it?
February 24, 2006 6:26 AM   Subscribe

I am the unintended recipient of an email from my boss. The email contains personal information about one of my coworkers. What do I do?

I asked my boss a question by email about whether or not a meeting was scheduled. I received two replies. One was about the meeting scheduling. The other was clearly intended as a response to somebody else's email, and reads like this: "I was worried about [coworker's] general demeanor since the breakup with his partner threw him into this current funk that's impaired his work so much (well, that and the house). Also, as his new manager, I want him working in top form since when he's on, he rocks the house."

Should I tell my boss I received this email?

Context: I have a new boss. He just became a manager last week. We were formerly working together as coworkers, and he just got promoted. I transferred into this department 10 weeks ago and I do not know this man very well. He was a well respected and highly competent worker bee and his promotion is largely viewed as deserved. We have been having a major work crisis all week of unheard of proportions (read: an experienced boss would stress out and make mistakes) and new boss is majorly stressed.

I would like to just ignore this email. However, I am extremely uncomfortable having a boss that would be so indiscriminate with sensitive personal information. I definitely would not want him to say anything like that about me. I am on my second newly minted boss at megacorp, so I realize mistakes like these come with the territory. Perhaps some gentle "be more careful" feedback would be useful? What would you do in the same situation?
posted by crazycanuck to Work & Money (23 answers total)
I would ignore it. Etiquette for accidental eavesdropping (which is what this is) is to remove yourself from the situation, and not comment on what you have learned to anyone, whether they were involved or not.

If he asks you about it, you can say "I just deleted it."
posted by orange swan at 6:32 AM on February 24, 2006

Best answer: You shouldn't ignore it, since it was obviously intended for someone else. Since you have a history with your boss, I'd simply and discreetly respond back to the email, saying something like "I think you meant to send this someone else" and let it go. No need to expound on it.
And delete the email you received erroneously.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:33 AM on February 24, 2006

Best answer: Reply to the email with a simple "you accidentally sent this to me" response. No feedback warranted.
posted by zonkout at 6:33 AM on February 24, 2006

This is a good "knock on the door and give them a heads up" situation. He's new and trying to do his best, so alerting him to possibly awkward situations before they blow up should be appreciated.

"Hey, I just wanted to give you the heads up that I got cc'd on an email that I don't think I was supposed to be privy to." is really all that you need to say, no "be careful in the future" or advice on what to do about the coworker or anything, just a polite verbal flag.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:33 AM on February 24, 2006

Best answer: Send it back to him just saying "I think I got this by mistake." It doesn't really involve you and you really don't want it to.

If you ignore it, and he notices that he sent it to you at some point, you look bad for not being open. If you try and suggest improvements, he'll resent it and think you don't respect his new position.
posted by smackfu at 6:33 AM on February 24, 2006

Go see him face to face. It'll look better than an impersonal email.
posted by ChazB at 6:35 AM on February 24, 2006

This has happened to me before. I didn't say anything about the fact that I saw an email, sent by the pres of my company to my boss, that contained some glowing comments about me and some very negative comments about a soon-to-be-fired coworker.

Full disclosure: I hated this coworker.
posted by elisabeth r at 6:39 AM on February 24, 2006

I don't like paper trails. Replying back is also impersonal. Go see him.
posted by MrMulan at 6:44 AM on February 24, 2006

I would talk to him behind closed doors.. Karma's a bitch (just ask Earl).
posted by joshgray at 6:57 AM on February 24, 2006

I did this once. I accidently sent something to the wrong person (a peer of the intended recipient, both of whom were exceptionally senior to me). I had no idea that it had occurred until the person that received it left me a voicemail to the extent of, "(Me), this is (Her), I'm really sorry, but I accidently got an email that was intended for (Person). I'm sorry about that, but just wanted to let you know so you could resend it to (Person)."

Clearly, this wasn't her fault at all, and there were *much* more direct wants to state what she was saying, but I think her response to me was awesome. I still freaked, and I apologized to her for accidently sending it her way, but it got the issue resolved in a professional manner. I'd suggest something similar... And don't leave it in his court to reply to you, or make it sounds like you're waiting to hear back from him. Act like, with the end of your statement, the issue is resolved in your eyes. He'll really appreciate it. Honest mistakes do happen, and this sounds like one of them.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:02 AM on February 24, 2006

Yeah, do it face-to-face.
posted by sohcahtoa at 7:18 AM on February 24, 2006

Normally I would say a quick reply, like "I think you sent this by accident" would be the thing to do.

But you don't know this guy very well yet. Maybe when it comes to things like this he's just clueless. How do you know he's not going to go up to that coworker at the watercooler and say "Funny story, I accidentally sent the wrong email to crazycanuck..." or even worse, turn it around to make it sound like it was somehow your fault. Now you have an awkward situation with a co-worker. I've seen bosses do worse things.

Delete it. If in a few months you have a better feel for him and the same thing happens, a reply might be the thing to do. For now, get out of the situation ASAP until you know how pointy his head is.
posted by bondcliff at 7:21 AM on February 24, 2006

Response by poster: I like the face-to-face answers, but here's the catch: boss has been temporarily reassigned to another job in another building. Technically, he's not supposed to be dealing with his "new boss" job responsibilities, but he's doing it anyway. I am definitely not supposed to be in the other building while he's working for his temporary corporate overlords.

Voice mail at megacorp is stored in a user's mail box. Either way, we have a "paper trail" ...
posted by crazycanuck at 7:36 AM on February 24, 2006

If you can't do it face-to-face, you could try calling him, and if you can't get him you could leave a voice mail asking him to call you?

Don't just delete it. No feedback is necessary from you - he is going to know that he screwed up and that he needs to be more careful, and he will appreciate it if you handle it in as low-key a fashion as possible.
posted by KAS at 7:54 AM on February 24, 2006

Do not delete. Here's why: If either your boss or the intended recipient have a follow up conversation about the e-mail, it will become clear that the intended party did not receive it. From there, they may contact the exchange server administrators, who can very quickly establish that you received and read the e-mail.
posted by Optamystic at 8:09 AM on February 24, 2006

I don't think I picked up whether you were the only recipient of the email.

If the real recipient did get it and your name would be seen by them, I think you should send an email to your boss telling them that you have deleted a message you believe you received inadvertently.

If there's any doubt that the intended recipient may not have received the message, then you need to email your boss - in this case I'd reply, sending the original message back, so he knows which one - if it's that busy.

If the intended recipient won't know you received it (Blind copy) and you're sure they did actually get the message, I would leave it alone, or perhaps even mention it to the boss later on after he starts just for his sake.

You haven't done anything wrong so I don't believe doing any of the above, briefly and with discretion, could be construed as a poor response in any way. Protect the subject/recipient, protect yourself, help the boss if you can. They're the priorities to me anyway.
posted by peacay at 8:10 AM on February 24, 2006

Response by poster: I was the only recipient of the mail. I don't know who it was supposed to be addressed to. My original message (addressed only to him) about the meeting was quoted in the reply. I suppose he thought he was replying to two emails in sequence, when instead he accidentally replied to the same email twice.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:26 AM on February 24, 2006

This has happened to me more times than I can count; My name is the very first in the company outlook address book and sometimes things get sent to me purely by slip of a finger. If the sender is in the building I speak to them face-to-face, but in your case, like many of mine where the sender was across the Atlantic, I just send an email back with the original message forwarded. I also mention I have deleted the email(s). I almost always get a phone call or an email thank-you, I don't think anyone has ever given me a hard time. Mostly, they are just embarrassed with their gaffe and grateful that discretion was shown.
posted by Emperor Yamamoto's Eggs at 9:17 AM on February 24, 2006

Reply to the same email with a candid critic of how he's doing as a manager making sure to mention that he seems to be performing well despite the fact his wife is sleeping with half the office.*

* Make sure you have another job lined up before hitting send.
posted by any major dude at 9:29 AM on February 24, 2006

Seriously, just be cool about it, pop into his office and say "hey, I think you accidentally sent me a message about so-and-so." Bosses are humans, too, and they appreciate honesty and courtesy (to differing extents per boss, of course).
posted by MrZero at 11:02 AM on February 24, 2006

Either you didn't receive the mail you're referring to, or you're a mannerless boor. There's no third possibility.

If someone "proves" that you must have "received" or "read" such an email, look that person in the eye and say, "I could never have received such a piece of mail." Repeat it until they understand what you're saying.

For the manners-impaired, what you're saying is that even if such a piece of email had crossed your visual field, you could never have in good conscience "received" the message it had to impart, once you understood it was not intended for your eyes.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:03 PM on February 24, 2006

your boss could be testing you, whether you are discreet when something like this happens, whether you freak out trying to figure out what to do about it or just handle it calmly and professionally, whether you go to a widely read community blog and post a poorly disguised outing of some poor guy in your office, etc.
posted by troybob at 12:12 AM on February 25, 2006

My vote goes to talking to him in person. In addition to that, I would suggest documenting the incident in case something more comes from this.
posted by k1ng at 8:22 AM on February 26, 2006

« Older How can my husband help?   |   Lemon Aid Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.