What To Do When You Send an Email to the Wrong Person

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 8, 2022 | Published September 29, 2021

Updated July 8, 2022

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Related: Email Etiquette: Tips For Professional Communication in the Workplace

You'll learn the best email etiquette tips for the workplace including how to schedule meetings and what to do when you don't know how to respond to an email!

Emails are an essential part of streamlining communications in many workplaces. Sometimes it's only a minor inconvenience when emails go to the wrong person, but other times it can cause significant disruptions.

In this article, we share tips for what to do when you've sent an email to the wrong person or received an email not meant for you. We also address how to correct the issue with some sample emails.

Related: FAQs About When To Use CC and BCC

Why an email may be sent to the wrong person

Image from iOS (1) (1)
Image description

An illustration of a person checking their email on a mobile phone, with communication bubbles surrounding it.

Emailing the wrong person can happen for several reasons, including:

  • The sender didn't realize they entered the incorrect email address.

  • The sender was working quickly and made a typing error or forgot to double-check that the recipient's email address was correct.

  • The sender's email program automatically completed the recipient's email address with the wrong address.

  • The sender clicked “Reply all” and didn't realize that other recipients were CC'd or that additional recipients were BCC'd.

  • The sender was using an internal email contact list and accidentally chose someone with a similar name at their company.

  • The sender accidentally added an unintended recipient, in addition to the intended recipient.

What to do if you incorrectly send an email

If you sent an email to someone other than the intended recipient, here are some tips to address the issue:

1. Try to recall the email

Depending on the email type you use, you might be able to unsend, or recall, the accidental email. Unsending might require that the other person use the same email service as you do, but it's a good idea to check and see if the option is available. Try to do this immediately after sending the email before the other person has the chance to open it. If the person you sent the email to has a secretary or personal assistant who screens their emails, you could contact them and ask them to delete it after you explain the situation.

2. Make a plan

If there isn't a way to unsend the email or if the person's already read it, consider the best response. It's important to handle the situation professionally. It might help to write the next steps you want to take or a few ideas about what you'd like to say to remedy the situation.

Related: 5 Steps To Take After Making a Mistake at Work

3. Assess the seriousness of the accident

How you proceed may depend on how potentially serious the consequences of the mistaken email could be. For example, if you sent a request for time off to the wrong person, it might be enough to simply send a quick apology and redirect the email to the right person. An in-person meeting might be more appropriate if you accidentally sent information about your plans to find another job to your manager.

4. Contact the unintended recipient

It's a good idea to contact the unintended recipient as soon as you realize the error. You may ask them to delete the email before they read it. If they've already read it, you can address the accidental email with them promptly. You might send a second email with a subject-line request to disregard your previous email or a longer note with an explanation. If you feel the situation requires a more direct conversation, you can call the recipient or speak with them face to face.

5. Apologies

Even if the email contents don't require an apology, it can help to offer one. For example, you can apologize for taking the other person's time from their work to read and possibly address an email not meant for them. If you also want to address the email's contents, it's good to address the fault directly and take responsibility for the error. Doing this could help protect your reputation and show professionalism.

Related: How To Apologize for a Mistake Professionally (With Examples)

6. Explain the mistake

If the consequences of the email are relatively small, you may choose to offer a quick apology and a brief explanation before moving on with your typical workday. Sometimes a more detailed description may be required. If you explain what happened specifically to lead to the mistake, the unintended recipient could understand or even be empathetic.

7. Discuss how you'll fix any consequences

If any issues arise because of the email you sent to the wrong person, it can help to explain what you'll do to fix them. For example, if you speak to your manager after sending them an email unintentionally, you might want to prepare a list of steps you'll take to assure them it won't happen again. Let the intended recipient know you can answer questions they have about what happened or help with any consequences of the incorrect email. Being proactive can help show that your apology is sincere.

How to prevent future unintended emails

To prevent sending an email to the wrong person in the future, consider these tips:

  • Be careful when using the “Reply all” feature because there may be other people BCC'd of whom you weren't aware.

  • Turn on any automatic pre-sending prompts your email program offers, such as spell check or sending confirmation.

  • Type the full email address or name of the person you want to send an email to in the recipient bar in case your email program automatically inputs the wrong address.

Related: 16 Best Practices for Email Etiquette in the Workplace

What to do if you receive an unintended email

If someone sends you an email that they intended for someone else, it's a good idea to respond to them professionally. Let the sender know it went to the wrong person so they're aware of the issue and can address it. If possible, you can help redirect them to the correct person or email address.

Template for addressing an email sent to the wrong person

Here's a template you can use to contact the person you accidentally emailed:

Subject: [Apologetic phrase]

Dear [Recipient],
I am writing to apologize for my previous email, which I didn't intend for you. Unfortunately, [explanation for error]. I understand it can be disruptive to receive emails that you don't need, and in the future, I'll [corrective action].

Sincerely,
[Your name]
[Your contact information]

Example responses for emails sent to the wrong person

Here are three examples to help you prepare your response if you send an email to the wrong person:

Example 1: Meeting reminder

Here's an example of a meeting reminder email that was sent unintentionally:

Subject: Apologies for the previous email; please disregard

Dear Mr. Brown,
I'm writing to apologize for my previous email, which I didn't intend for you. Unfortunately, both you and another Mr. Brown at this company have a similar first name. I was hasty in choosing your name from the automatic address book. I understand it can be disruptive to receive emails you don't need, and in the future, I'll make sure to type in the recipient's full name to avoid making this mistake again.

Sincerely,
Lisa Tan
ltan@email.com
(123) 456-7890

Example 2: Sensitive budget information

Here's an example of an email about sensitive financial information that was sent to the wrong recipient:

Subject: Apologies for the previous email; please delete

Dear Mr. Brown,
I'm writing to apologize for my previous email, which I didn't intend for you. Unfortunately, I accidentally added your name to a communication that was supposed to be shared only with my colleague from the budget department. I understand it can be disruptive to receive emails you don't need. In the future, I'll double-check the recipient bar before sending any email that contains sensitive information. I've also added a send delay to my emails. As the content of the email is sensitive, I respectfully ask you to please delete it immediately.

Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can do anything to assist with this issue.

Sincerely,
Lisa Tan
ltan@email.com
(123) 456-7890

Example: Email not intended for you

Here's an example of an email reply in response to correspondence that wasn't intended for you:

Subject: Email to the wrong person? Re: Scheduling a time for Monday's meeting

Dear Mr. Brown,
Did you intend to send me an email scheduling a meeting for Monday? I wasn't expecting that, so I'm wondering if you meant to send this to Linda from the accounting department? We have very similar email addresses.

Sincerely,
Lisa Tan
ltan@email.com
(123) 456-7890


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