The symptoms are universal: a sudden gasp for air and an involuntary utterance of "uh oh," followed by an instant surge of heat rushing over the body, increased heart rate, dizziness, nausea and an overwhelming desire to dig a hole, crawl in that hole and put a large rock over the top.
Such are the responses that occur upon accidentally sending a steamy text meant for your hot girlfriend to your church minister instead. Or Google chatting more than one person at a time — perhaps your mom plus an important client — and mistakenly sending the client your sassy critique of Real Housewives. Or tapping the dreaded "reply all" button and propelling a snarky reference about your supervisor's body odor companywide, including your boss' in box.
A few years back, Zoe Francis, a Pleasanton, Calif., freelance writer, accidentally sent an email to her boss in which she referred to him as a distinctive type of feminine hygiene product.
"I thought I would die when I sent that note …," she said. "Luckily, he did not kill me or fire me."
But serious consequences do happen. Jobs have been lost, relationships altered. Email "storms," —when people "reply all" to messages over and over, multiplying like rabbits in everyone's in boxes — can overload servers.
How do you recover?
• "You should face the music," says Sue Fox, author of Business Etiquette for Dummies. "Take a deep breath, stay put and face the consequences honestly and apologetically. Possibly you can use a little humor, but be careful you don't make the offense worse."
• Honesty is the best policy.
• Most people will give you another chance to redeem yourself, but take responsibility for your blunder. Don't blame it on someone or something else.
•Respond with a written apology. Do not make a lot of excuses. Make it short and sweet, and end the conversation online.