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The question

Recently, in the course of organizing a stressful lunch for a colleague’s 30th birthday, all the squabbling and bickering over where to go and everything else became too much for me, and I saw red! I sent someone an e-mail (yes, the dreaded e-mail) basically saying that my colleagues were a bunch of whining babies and to hell with them. The problem is that one of them was later helping me with an e-mail issue, and while I was out of the room she saw the message and became upset. I told her the e-mail was not directed at her, rather at the others, but I could tell she didn’t buy it. And I think she’s told the others, because since then, the atmosphere in the office has been chilly. My initial impulse is to ignore the situation and move on. But there is Arctic air in the cubicles around me. What can I do to alleviate all this stress and tension?

The answer

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Well, it sounds like you might have an inkling (“the dreaded e-mail” might make a good headline for the next few paragraphs) of what I’m going to say.

And I’m going against my normal policy of trying not to poo-poo people from a great height, to make Damage Control a “safe space” for people to say: “Dave, I screwed up, I admit it, I’m not even trying to deny it, but what do I do now?”

Then I can do my thing where I say. “Hey, I’ve done dumber stuff, here’s what little wisdom I’ve gleaned from my own moronic mistakes,” etc., etc.

But due to recent events in the lives of people around me – as well as in the news – when people start talking about saying stuff they regret in e-mails and texts and on social media, I see red, and my pen is obliged to flash from its scabbard.

When are we, as an allegedly “wise” species – Homo sapiens – going to learn that anything we write down can be forwarded to anyone, constitutes a legal document and can be used against you in a court of law?

Anything you say via text, e-mail, fax, teletype, social media or carrier pigeon should be pure euphonious rubbish, because when you write something down, suddenly you lose a very important little something called deniability.

On a potentially more sinister note, when it comes to social media, you are providing information, and it is being harvested, like you harvest wheat in the fall or turkeys at Thanksgiving.

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I guess what I’m ultimately saying is this: If you have something nasty to say, something you don’t want people to know, say it over the phone (and even then, it could be recorded). Even better, say it in person, ideally with a catcher’s mitt over your mouth, so no one can read your lips.

As to what you should do now, well, the cat is out of the bag. I think you have to address your colleagues.

Over … hmmm, I’m going to say lunch. And my feeling is it should be your treat.

Picking up the tab is a powerful ameliorant, if that’s even a word. Once, a woman I had not previously been all that impressed with – and might even have said some negative things about – invited a bunch of us to an expensive restaurant for dinner, and I was sweating all throughout the meal thinking, “I can’t afford this,” and so forth.

Then she waved her credit card around and picked up the tab! After that, and henceforward, I would have taken a swing at anyone who had the slightest negative thing to say about her.

So, to recap: a) explain to your colleagues you were just venting, b) pick up the tab. You were stressed. You supply the actual verbiage, but I advise you to make it honest. Everyone has moments like that, and my guess is they will ultimately understand.

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And from now on, to quote John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing, “I’m praying to you, look into your heart, I’m praying to you” that if you have something to say that you want to be able to take back later, say it in person, or ideally, not at all.

To quote another movie, John Travolta in Get Shorty, really the best policy is to say “as little as possible – if that.”

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