Don’t Commit BSAK Errors. The World is Too Small

Posted on Sep 20, 2011 | 64 comments


BSAK Errors. I always loved the term … “Between seat and keyboard.”

Normally it was my tech team just being cheeky with me about my withering technology chops. But …

… was thinking about a very common BSAK error that I see committed – the “flaming email.” Or when I worked at Accenture we called these “CLMs.” (career limiting maneuvers).

I know we’re all tempted to send them and I’d be disingenuous if I said I hadn’t sent some in my days. Sometimes they just slip out.

When I had a startup I had a method for avoiding these BSAK errors. I would write the email and be as scathing as I wanted to be. I would then send them to my business partner, Stuart Lander, so that somebody could at least read my witty prose. I would always ask, “Do you think I ought to send this?” But I didn’t really need to ask. I knew that the fact that I was sending it to Stuart meant it was likely a bad idea.

If he saved any of them it would be quite good for a laugh now, I’m sure.

Truthfully, it’s a great idea to write it if you can be disciplined and not send it. It’s cathartic. Take your most trusted colleague and have them be the recipient. Or your boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, whatever. Only people you trust. It makes for a good laugh.

But isn’t that a waste of productive time?

Not really. It’s important to let some steam off to get over your anger of a situation. If you stay angry, you lose twice. If you never read my post on this topic I highly recommend it. Losing twice is dangerous in business. Having just re-read that post myself I see that I learned much more from Stuart than he would probably acknowledge.

Two to three times a year I get a flaming email from an entrepreneur. I’m not talking about mild sarcasm – I’m talking about a right swift kick up the arse. I usually chuckle when it happens. In any case I’m sure that there was usually some basis for their anger. I’m not perfect, that’s for sure. But often it’s also partly a misunderstanding.

Perhaps a meeting got rescheduled 3-4 times and they feel aggrieved. Yes, that’s terrible. I try not to let it happen. Sometimes it happens and I didn’t even know because my assistant Tasha handles my calendar bookings. She’s much more organized about this than I am. Sometimes it ends up being personal situations like when my wife had to leave town unexpectedly and I had to blow out some meetings to help with the kids.

The point is, unless you really know somebody’s situation – you don’t really know. And flaming emails are like driving cars aggressively. If you get cut off on a freeway you’re ready to start a fist fight with somebody who *may* have just made an accident. If you saw that same person face-to-face and they cut you off at a supermarket I’ll be you’d both react differently.

The same is true about email. If you’re really upset with somebody pick up the phone. You’ll get a better explanation of the situation. Or better yet see them in person if you’re really upset. In either case there’s less chance for misunderstanding … and there’s no living record of your rant.

It’s a small world. Everybody talks. Your satisfying moment of chewing somebody out who has wronged you will often sting you in ways you don’t see. It will be private conversations about “that person who went postal on me.” It won’t be a campaign of hate against you, it will be a reference call asking somebody, “have you ever worked with so-and-so? What do you think?”

It is NEVER worth it. Even if we all slip from time-to-time. Especially us sarcastic bastards who have slitting tongues.

Final note: I never try to write about an individual to send a message. Every time I post somebody writes me and says, “was that about me?” No, this wasn’t about you. It’s generic. I made sure to write it when I haven’t been flamed in a long time. I’m sending a message to everybody. And to nobody. And to you who still thinks it’s about you … trust me, I’m over it by now. It happens ;-)

OK, final, final note. If you’re not following Stuart Lander you should. Why? He’s wise and insightful. And maybe it will help encourage him to Tweet more goodness with some pressure on ;-)

Thank you to PhotoXpress for the image.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Were you Andersen? If so, do you remember “TMR” from St. Charles?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Sure. I can see that. I would never say never. I have quite the sharp tongue when needed. Sometimes when not needed.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ego. It’s the only reason.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I wonder if she lost any severance over her non disparagement clause for that.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    In most cases, yes. I agree. But there are times it can happen for legitimate and unfortunate reasons. Especially for those of us that travel often. And there are crazy reasons it happens, too.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Hey, Roman. Yes, of course I remember you. Welcome back! True, I don’t even remember arguing with you and wouldn’t have if you didn’t remind me ;-) I guess I need to watch my temper in the comments section. True. True.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    He’s the man. And Zig Ziglar. #OldSkool

  • TJ

    I once received an annoying request.  An email sent to my boss and me.  I forwarded my sarcastic response to my boss.  A healthy outlet, as you suggest.  Unfortunately, I actually sent it to the person who made the request.  Not a user-proof plan.

  • http://twitter.com/davidsmuts David Smuts

    Indeedo. Same damn ego thing as the reason behind recent flame articles on TC. 
    A journalist rants on his company’s blog with his resignation letter and the editor fires straight back in front of everyone. And then…., they battle it out on Twitter! Result= everyone watching just shakes their heads and says: “what pratts”!

  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com Donna Brewington White

    Curious why you address to self rather than just leaving blank? 

  • http://www.theYakRanch.com Grunniens Ranch

    Not too many…..

  • Rajmohan

    Thanks for the post Mark.

    I have a few from the early 2000’s (the dotcom bust time) still in my drafts folder!

    Yes, a good option is to save it in drafts and if its a “burn the world” type of mail, re read it over time and see how it still feels.  The fire burns out rather rapidly when you notice the typos and commas missing when one types away frothing and is worth a good laugh.

    Like you said we need to take off steam from time to time, but, “It is NEVER worth it. Even if we all slip from time-to-time. Especially us sarcastic bastards who have slitting tongues.”

  • Roger Yang

    I couldn’t imagine a lot of entrepreneur’s making that mistake, so I it’s shocking to me that you get it a couple times a year. But the direct opposite of sending an hate email (ie. not saying anything and thinking the VC is an asshole) is not great either. 

    I think it really about understanding that there could be something that you don’t understand going on (as you mentioned) and bringing it up next time you meet up to clear the air.

    By then you shouldn’t be in rant mode anymore and you can talk about it cordially.  

  • http://twitter.com/gpundir Gaurav Pundir

    This is for you John: http://gmailblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/new-in-labs-undo-send.html