What’s Been Your Biggest Communication Gaffe? Win FREE Tix to NextGen+

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This topic contains 23 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew Krzmarzick 4 years, 11 months ago.

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  • #172147

    Let’s face it.

    We’re all moving too fast.

    Texts are flung out on the fly.

    Emails are all too frequently half-baked or marked by massive misspellings.

    Conversations are rushed or rudely interrupted by a phone call.

    There’s no doubt that we are operating in an increasingly communication-challenged environment…and we’re bound to fall into avoidable blunders.

    In fact, my guess is that most of us have a way-more-memorable-than-we’d-like-to-admit mistake in communicating with our colleagues.

    So how about you?

    What has been your biggest communications gaffe and how did you fix it?

    Bonus: The best answer will receive a free ticket to GovLoop and Young Government Leader’s NextGen+ event on December 6, 2012.

    Deadline is Friday, Nov. 16. Share yours or +1 your favorite.

    You may submit an anonymous response to [email protected].

    P.S. I will also be leading a workshop at this event called “Become a Brilliant Communicator.” We’ll explore strategies for methodically moving through your daily communications minefield and explore common scenarios that can trip you up.

  • #172193

    At a previous place of employment, I was using Outlook. When I would type in the name of a particular colleague to send an email, it would automatically populate it with the name of someone in another organization. At least once I inadvertently sent this person an email…and would cringe when they’d send back the response, “Are you sure this was meant for me?” Bah!

  • #172191

    Terrence Hill

    My biggest communication gaffe was reponding directly to a provocative question from the Washington Post using my real name and agency. Once it was published on the Federal Page, I was called into the office and told that although I am entitled to my own opinion, I am not entitled to sharing it openly. Baically, I left that office feeling embarassed, threatened, and victimized by my own egotistical ambitions. Since then, I have learned to withold my opinion, or if I really feed compelled to share it, do so anonymously!

    (Name and Agency Witheld to Protect the Author from Prosecution)

  • #172189

    Todd Solomon

    While this contest is a fun–and instructive–idea, the entries that won’t be submitted (career suicide, anyone?) will almost certainly top those that are posted here for public consumption. Too bad you can’t guarantee privacy or anonymity, but anyone who would fall for such a guarantee online will likely end up being a comms victim for next year’s contest.

  • #172187

    David B. Grinberg

    Terry, what ever happened to freedom of speech? Did you consult your Office of Legal Counsel about this?

    Any type of “prosecution” would warrant filing a whistle blower complaint, as well as contacting the local/national union, DOJ’s Office of Special Counsel, the MSPB, and perhaps your members of Congress and the national news media to “blow the whistle” with a bullhorn.

    The First Amendment is still intact — at least the last time I checked.

    As long as your own personal views are being expressed — rather than intentionally acting as an unauthorized and perceived official spokesperson for your agency — I believe you should be on firm legal ground.

    Also, keep in mind that over officious communications officials, as well as the “powers that be” within agencies, may tend to think that Feds are robots who can be programmed to do as they say. My advice: don’t fall prey.

    DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind that, while I’m no lawyer, I do play one on TV (lol). Just some food for thought here.

    This is still AMERICA!


  • #172185

    Communication by email for me is the likeliest source for miscommunication. Between being misunderstood because of misread tone or address error, the possibilities are great. Although I cannot note a specific miscommunication, I know I have double checked my sent box a dozen different times after a sudden fear that I may have inadvertently replied to the “wrong” person. Each time I vow that I will never send an email that could be misinterpreted or construed as an insult to anyone.

  • #172183

    Steve Ressler

    Thanks Todd – good pint – that’s why we tried to focus it also on how do you fix it.

    Also we do take anonymous answer (see line above)

    You may submit an anonymous response to [email protected].

  • #172181

    Harris Walker

    Recently, I had to go to an industry conference and had packed all of our materials for the conference. About halfway through the conference after we had handed about 100 of our one-pagers to various potential customers, my VP of Business Development noticed that two of the functional area sections were identical. Three or four people had reviewed the document and somehow it eluded us all. I was so embarrassed and immediately called our graphic designer to get it fixed, but the damage was done. To remedy the situation, I made sure to mention the missing area in discussions with people to make sure they knew our professional talents.

  • #172179

    Steve Ressler

    Yeah – that’s why I usually put the email address in the to box only when I’m done. I’ve made too many errors of accidentally sending before complete with the address in there

  • #172177

    Thanks for sharing that example, Terry. It’s a fine line between exercising freedom of speech (as David said) and negotiating one’s role within an organization…especially when you work in government. I always appreciate your insights on GovLoop!

  • #172175

    I think email might be everyone’s number one. I know I try to be cautious about it, often reading and re-reading messages at least a couple times to be sure my meaning is coming across. I often use emoticons and parenthesis (Tone Alert: meant to be constructive) to give people a bit more context. 🙂

  • #172173

    I just did that on a recent trip. I put together the materials a bit too hastily and discovered only weeks after the trip that one of the headings for my sections was a repeat of the previous. Bah! Moving too fast always gets me.

  • #172171

    Good point Todd.

  • #172169

    Katherine Rocha

    Communication gaffe? How about feeling like you had to learn an entirely new language!

    In October of last year, I transitioned from the uber-creative media and marketing industry where iced lattes and the latest documentary were often our points of conversation to the laced-up and procedure-driven government contracting world. Aside from an 8-hour training before my new co-worker hopped on a plane and moved back to California…I was left in the trenches taking grenades…or googling acronyms if I pause the drama for a second.

    Early on in one of our government contracts, we were called to create a website from scratch. I was determined to bring a fresh perspective to the old school status quo, and it appeared that everyone was on board. As we were putting the final touches on the wireframe for the site, we got to the “content” part of the website, and amidst our discussions, I insisted that “original content” was crucial for high-ranking SEO.

    Oh boy, talk about a moment where “creative” jargon versus “academic” jargon collide.

    Our SMEs were horrified at the idea of creating all new content within a three week period for government website. How dare I suggest that…didn’t I know the research and hours that would go into that?

    But alas, our President, who had her foot both in the academic world being a former professor, and in the real world – came to the rescue and explained that “original” content simply meant putting a fresh spin on what’s already out there. After a few conference calls and taking the initiative to write some of the content myself as an example – all was forgiven.


    These days, I choose my words more carefully than ever. Between talking to academic SMEs, government officials, my military fiancé, and deciphering my own stream of thought – I’d say I’ve become much more fluent in languages that were once quite foreign to me.

    Hope to get the chance to attend the 12/6 event!


    Kathy Rocha, Communications Manager

    The Federal Leadership Institute

  • #172167

    Charles A. Ray

    My biggest IT goof took place because of the fact that the REPLY and REPLY ALL buttons are too darned close together on emails. When I was Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and was about to be reassigned, the individual who was replacing me was looped in on emails relating to people who were vying for assignments to jobs at the consulate, especially the deputy position. For whatever reason, she was negative about every candidate, including a couple who were clearly outstanding. Now, she was, I learned later, just thinking out loud via email so to speak, but, it was beginning to grate on my nerves. After a series of several of her negative comments, I let loose with a tirade that was intended for the guy who was handling assignments – and, I’m afraid I made a couple of rather unflattering comments about my designated successor. Problem was, instead of hitting REPLY, I hit REPLY ALL and my comments wound up in her inbox. Needless to say, when I noticed this the next day, I was mortified. Not that I didn’t mean what I said; I just hadn’t meant for it to be said TO her. I waited a couple of days, and then sent her a direct email, explaining what was going through my mind at the time, apologizing for my rudeness, but, also pointing out that her constant negative assessments were clogging up the assignment process. Thankfully, she was an understanding person who also knew the pressure I was under, so I was forgiven. We actually became good friends after that, and I learned to exercise extreme caution when sending emails from that point on.

  • #172165

    You’re a *great* writer, Kathy. That was an entertaining, excellent example.

    Words are everything.

  • #172163

    Seems like a lot of these stories have silver linings. I just got a similar one in my inbox…not only was the person forgiven, but they (like you) had a better relationship because of their honest.

    …which brings up a key question: Why don’t we default to honesty? Why do people have to find out how we really feel when we accidentally hit “Reply All”?

    It seems like we stand to be the biggest beneficiaries of that honesty as we “get it off our chest” or reveal the other person’s blind spots. Either way, it’s far more unlikely that we’d see change if we don’t let others know that what they’re doing is troublesome…and they can’t do anything about it if they don’t know! 🙂

    I am fascinated by this phenomena…

  • #172161

    Lindsay Diokno

    I would say my biggest communication problem was not getting anything meant for me — people were constantly submitting things to my sibling instead of me, because my sibling works at the same place but is in no way remotely attached to my section. I solved it the old-fashioned way — constant pestering until they were so sick of hearing from me, they took the time to double check who they addressed things to.

  • #172159

    Spencer Robert

    “One of my biggest gaffes,” as there has been plenty, came when I was forwarding an email to a friend seeking advice and venting about what I felt was laziness on the part of someone who had replaced me in a position I once held. I really opened up a tirade about how lazy the guy must be; how inconsiderate of him to take the easy way out; I stated such things as, “who does he think I am his “gofer”; “I gave him step-by-step instructions that even a child could understand”; “what does he want me to do, hold his hand while he uses the bathroom”, “etc., etc.” Imagine my surprise when I received a response from him stating, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was asking for much, didn’t mean to be a burden to you.” YIKES! “Remove Foot From Mouth”, I had inadvertently hit the “Reply All” button and sent my tirade to him AND my friend. Needless to say, I felt foolish, embarrassed, and slightly angry at myself for making such a blunder. I politely sent a response back to him stating, “Sorry that you received this email, I sent out of frustration, I was only seeking advice on how to take the “training-wheels” off to allow you to grow by finding your own answers.” He said he accepted my apology and said he would not trouble me anymore with questions concerning the job. Since then, I have made it a practice to “check and re-check” who I am sending emails, texts, etc. to…”LESSON LEARNED!”

  • #172157

    Shared with me by email:

    My worst communication error was during my first job out of college. I was 22 and had a boss that was rude and demeaning and enjoyed hiring young girls that were especially vulnerable to this type of bullying. My colleague and I were e-mailing back and forth after an especially bad morning, and in response to a rude e-mail, and I used a word that rhymes with witch to describe her. I sent it and realized I had accidentally hit reply all to the rude e-mail and e-mailed my comment to my boss! She saw it and I spoke to her and apologized for how unprofessional that was and explained how we were feeling. It actually ended up being a positive. She was a little nicer after that and didn’t fire me on the spot, which is what I thought she would do.

  • #172155

    Another one I received by email:

    The monumental mistake I made was when I emailed a prospect what I meant to email my partner who had the same name – lets say “Dan.” The email I wrote went something like this: “Great thanks for supporting our efforts with Company X- they are certainly a great prospect and I think your case was accepted and understood by Dan as to why they should support us.”

    Included on the email were all the other members of my team and of course the “Other” Dan. I was mortified, of course he would know he was a prospect but to label him to his face as such is really rather bad taste – so I quickly sent an email back to all noting: “Dan, I apologize this was sent to the wrong “Dan” but of course your efforts in supporting our potential teaming are greatly appreciated too.”

    I never heard back from him and I learned a super valuable lesson! Always double check your to addresses when they auto-populate, and even in your internal communications, you don’t need to be so crass and aggressive in your pursuit—at least with words.

  • #172153

    Kari Butler

    Saw this deadline is passed, but I have a memorable one. While working as a young supervisor, I was miffed by an employees lack if follow through on a specific task. I, angrily, left her a message on her dry erase board, for her only to see the next day. Rethought the delivery of this communication (as opposed to more professionally speaking with her directly), so I went to erase the message and discovered I had used permanent marker. Ugh. Had to cover the secured dry board with paper until new one could be installed. This incident taught me a lot, to say the least .

  • #172151

    Katherine Rocha

    Who won? We’re eager to find out 😉

  • #172149

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