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Offend Someone via Email? Pick Up the Phone and Apologize, Says Etiquette Expert

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Everyone is still buzzing about the Sony hacking scandal. So what do you do if you’ve insulted someone via email … and they find out?

Etiquette Expert Henry Alford tells PEOPLE that anyone who insults someone over email should issue an apology as swiftly as possible. And don’t do it via email, Alford says – either pick up the phone or apologize in person.

“You owe that person the intimacy and the intensity of a face to face, or a voice to voice,” explains Alford, the author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners. “You owe them the chance to tell you how hurt they are. And you need to listen the hardest you have ever listened in your life when they tell you how hurt they are. Secondly, you follow up with a note and probably with flowers.”

At the same time, any victim of an insulting email should refrain from blowing a gasket.

“Try to curb your profanity,” suggests Alford. “One’s natural impulse is to fire back volcanically and to be as rude as the person who hurt you. But you don’t want to be the person in the movie theater whose shushing is louder than the person talking. You need to respond in a a cool and logical way and shouldn’t let your emotions wreak havoc with your response. Otherwise, the offended person is going to end up being just as awful as the person who offended them.”

And finally, everyone at work should remember that off-color jokes sent to a “work spouse” rarely pass the smell test when sent to a larger circle of co-workers.

“With anyone who isn’t your close colleague, certain kinds of humor is totally inappropriate,” he says. “I once joked that I was writing a horror film set in an office. It was called Reply All. That’s the scariest modern invention ever.”