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

Posted on Sep 20, 2011 | 64 comments

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

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.

  • Michael Gnanakone

    An entrepreneur writing hate-mail to a VC isn’t a great way to build a reputation I bet… And what does the entrepreneur expect to happen? 

    After chewing you out do they expect for you to throw aside everything and take the meeting? That’s  stupid…. I followed your friend Stuart and I think his company could help me find some really cool jobs!

    BTW… Keep Yibish in mind when thinking about Launchpad LA, I’ve made a lot of progress so far and have been keeping Josh updated on the milestones we’ve hit over the past couple of weeks… And good luck tomorrow on TWiVC!

  • Scott Wheeler

    A friend once said, “The measure of a man is the ratio of mails in his outbox relative to his drafts folder.” I’d like to think that most of my “CLMs” have remained there (though I’ve had to clean up a shit-storm or two of imprudent mails from other folks in the company).

  • Steve De Long

    Hi Mark,  I followed Stuart.  Looking forward to his insights. One way I manage the occasional CLM email is to have a time delay on my outbox.  Gives me a chance to reconsider.  :-) As someone who has had the opportunity to meet with you in person I can vouch that Tasha is awesome and that the minor bumps in the schedule were well worth the price of admission.   

  • David Levine

    I think every professional needs to develop thick skin – entrepreneurs even more so.

    A boss, a colleague, a report, a customer – anyone can have a bad day or have things going in their personal/professional lives which reduce your importance to them. 

    It’s not personal but it happens.

    I repeat the mantra of “I have thick skin” often. If someone dumps on me, I try and take the hit, deep breaths, counting to 100 and try and remember it’s only work no matter how much it hurts.

    Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard – but it means I can get back into it without sending those long and emotional emails I did early in my career!

  • Donna Brewington White

    Yeah and a tip — don’t add the recipient’s email address on one of those flaming emails until you are sure you want to send — just in case you hit send accidentally.  It happens.
    Also, if you find it in your drafts folder months later and can’t remember who you wrote it to, even more confirmation that it was best not to send it.Following Stuart.  Thanks.

    P.S.  Insomniacs unite!

  • Alex Jouravlev

    Sending flaming email is a sign of weakness. Usually means they have no other option. Make sure there is always a satisfactory “plan B”. Makes it much easier to be nice and understanding to the plan A people.

  • Yuri Yuryev

    Great if you can be zen about someone chewing you out and get over it pretty fast.  For other people, however, it may completely change their attitude toward you for a long time (if not forever).  Though that behavior is questionable in itself, you might want to consider what’s at stake here, since a fist fight #win may turn into a relationship #lose.

  • research proposal

    cool post! thanks alot!

  • John Seiffer

    When I used Outlook for email I had it set NOT to send the email immediately – I think every 10 min. Gave me time to cool off, but even more often to add or correct things I though 2 minutes after sending.  Now I’m on gmail and don’t know how to delay the send so I am forcing myself to fill out the TO fields last. That way I can write and ponder a bit before sending and if I accidentally hit send before I’m really done it won’t go anywhere.

  • Jan Schultink

    I agree that emails are not good to let off steam. However, after you counted to 10, email is useful to list all your complains neatly one after the other. Especially if there are a lot of arguments you want to make (civilized), they do not come across well in a phone call. “Here are the 10 reasons why I think I am right”

    The only situation where an email with vented frustration (after counting to 10) has helped me sometimes is in fee negotiations in Israel. Welcome to the Middle East…

  • Samuel Ian Rosen

    Great post mark. As my brother tells me, always take the long term vision. BTW, the kiddies these days refer to it as PEBKAC (problem exists between keyboard and chair)

  • Jag

    If  emails are not good to let off steam, is there any Digital Wailing Wall. If not time to create one with a auto clean Inbox

  • Rohan Rajiv

    BSAK – I like that. And Stuart’s twitter url seems broken. 

  • Marc Summe

    I have a similar rule with these type of emails. I make myself wait until the next day before sending it.  If you wait just a few hours, you will reread it and laugh when you see how emotional you were.  BSAK, I like that term too.  

  • Anonymous

    I started laughing as soon as I read this.  I got a *smoking* phone call from a very very junior person far away from me in the company a month or so ago.  Complaint this, disagreement that, criticism of my project team, etc, etc.  I worked with the guy for about a half hour trying to get him off the ledge, he finally went off and did his own thing.  I would actually have to go back to dig out his name because I purposefully didn’t write it down, but I’m wondering who else he’s done that with.


    PS – I have also learned to NOT PUT AN EMAIL ADDRESS on my flame mail as I’m writing it.  Yes, I did accidentally hit send once and had to eat a bucket of sorry.

  • Anonymous

    The cleanup is worse than the original fight.

    I actually had to call the IT guys here at Gigantic Co a few years ago and have a mass email yanked from the email server and from inboxes to keep someone from getting fired.  I was able to get the names of the dozen or so people who got the original email and call them individually and pour oil on the fire.

    I felt like making that guy run laps and do pushups.


  • Himanshu Sahani

    I thought I was the only sick guy in the world who gets emotional satisfaction by sending flame mails :)
    However the pertinent questions are:
    1. what do you do if you regret after sending one, 
    2. How do you respond if you receive one

  • DW

    I really enjoyed reading your post, Mark.  I was recently on the receiving end of it from a customer – first verbally, and then a follow-up via email (with a cc: to my boss).  As a long term sales professional you learn to take it in stride (perhaps more so than people in other job functions), but you do wonder why even seasoned professionals feel it’s okay for them to not treat others with respect and professionalism.  

    I occasionally do have the urge to ‘yell’ at someone – I deal with it during the drive home after work by getting it off my chest when no one is listening (or watching, hopefully).  Definitely cathartic!

  • Terence Craig

    Great post –  Have you seen beer goggles from Google Labs for those of us who don’t have a Stuart.

    Regarding engineer acronyms for fading chops – my guys call me a BUD bad user on device but I am sure they mean it affectionately 😉

  • Dan Bowen

    While I’m sure most of us have a story or two of our own
    foibles, it does amaze me how many people we interact with that could use a
    little less Facebook and a lot more Dale Carnegie. I believe the anonymity of
    the internet and the faux-reality of social networking has created a sense invulnerability
    that often times leads to the creation of, and unfortunate “send” of these
    types of emails.  Oh but the stories…they
    are fun…

  • Dan Bowen

    While I’m sure most of us have a story or two of our own
    foibles, it does amaze me how many people we interact with that could use a
    little less Facebook and a lot more Dale Carnegie. I believe the anonymity of
    the internet and the faux-reality of social networking has created a sense invulnerability
    that often times leads to the creation of, and unfortunate “send” of these
    types of emails.  Oh but the stories…they
    are fun…

  • ryanborn

    Funny that you get them from entrepreneur that likely wants a check from you one day.  I think from time to time we are all guilty of poor tone in our emails / social media posts and this is a great reminder that you catch more flies with honey (oh the number of times I’ve had that line said to me).  

    A good idea would be to crease would be something like a “spell / grammar checker” that worked as a “tone checker / sentiment analysis” and before sending emails, writing blog posts, tweeting, etc. it gave the user the “Stuart” message such as “This seems pretty negative…are you sure you want to send this?”.   Wouldn’t that be nice?

  • Daniel aaron bernal

    I just emailed my partner a email like this before sending it off. Great content. I feel like your reading my mind sometimes Mark

  • Peter Beddows

    Words of wisdom; great acronym. Discretion is invariably the better part of Valour.

    I totally agree with “Truthfully, it’s a great idea to write it if you can be disciplined and not send it.” I find doing that actually is cathartic and even helps clarify thoughts about a situation if given enough time to allow percolation.

    But, when all said and done, it is Never a good idea to actually “send” such an email.

    I usually allow this “memo to self” to sit unsent overnight. Sometimes I will vent to my wife who is also my closest, most reliable and unbiased (read “brutally honest and clear”) friend as well as a consummate business partner and business intuitive ~ a truly incredible woman … but that’s another story.

    The key here is that it is often amazing how frequently things end up looking so differently in the morning after “sleeping” on the grievance ~ for “grievance” is what it truly happening here; often ending up even seeing the whole scene from a completely different perspective.

    And it is also so true that “The point is, unless you really know somebody’s situation – you don’t really know.” How can we? We are neither clairvoyant nor often in possession of all of the salient facts.

    Surprisingly often, a flaming response from another that may initially “get our goat” is really a plea by them that “you are not hearing me or respecting my needs”. Consequently, a potential negative situation can often be turned around by, instead of flaming back, calmly listening to the grievance and helping the offended person feel that their needs are not only important but that they actually will be addressed.

    Besides, anger is from the bruised ego hence reacting in anger has no relevance to strengthening or building potential business or business relationships; in fact the opposite result is the more likely outcome.

    Building business through tact, diplomacy and relationships puts money into your pocket: Killing business by flaming or any other negative activity can take money out of your pocket as so many of our fellow citizens now quickly turn to lawyers ever ready to file against you – and whom amongst us needs to further encourage that self-defeating parasitic result?

  • Aaron Crayford

    Suster I got my last investment cause I write scathing criticism on your blog. He recognized me from my photo and was like “you’re that guy that leaves those hilarious comments on Mark Suster’s blog” I said “you’re damn right i’m that guy” and bam! investment… So much for this theory Suster! :-p

  • Mark Birch

    Reminds me some advice I wrote about a while back ago (after learning the hard way many years prior and still on occasion trip up on):

    My advice, step away from the computer and take a walk.  There is nothing that gets resolved by trying to be “right”.  Rather than justifying the other person’s Internet rage or getting consumed by anger, it is better to side step the communication by putting it on the backburner and moving on.  If it is simply a confusing or uninformed message from someone that you know, best idea is to just get on the phone.  So when in doubt, instead of assuming the worst, brush it off and move on or clear it up through something other than email or comments board.Original post here:

  • Grunniens Ranch

    This is the best advice! Nothing worse than an accidental flame!

  • Chris Tran

    Wow.  I haven’t heard of CLM in years.  I totally understand what you’re saying about email remorse.  Thanks!

  • Donna Brewington White

    Hey Rohan.  Recognize you from that “other” VC blog.  😉

    It’s working.  And his follower count has shot up since last night too!  Hope he thinks that’s a good thing.

  • Rohan Rajiv

    that ‘other’ VC blog.. haha

    And of course. Donna from the west coast who is generally up early (except of late) and who took her kids to Disneyland.. (haha)
    And thanks about the twitter handle. Funny, it wasn’t working for me. But it is now.. 😀

  • Rohan Rajiv

    1. Make it a habit to send such emails to yourself first. 

    2. Don’t bother..

  • James Colgan

    1. Don’t do it. If you’ve got something that really needs to be said – call. If you have sent one, call.
    2. Pause, think, then either shrug or call…depending on the flame and the relationship. Do NOT email back.

  • josh guttman

    This is true 98% of the time.  There are some circumstances when a strong, carefully-worded email is more realistic than a face-to-face and can help deliver the desired message (I’m thinking big corporate environments where you’ve hit a wall).  In these cases, you often need to be willing to get fired, but just sometimes, you’ll get what you want from the irate email.  This happened to me once and my email had the intended effect.

  • Anonymous

    A Yak ranch?  Scary!  Do you have Death Yaks?

  • David Smuts

    I can’t understand why an Entrepreneur would waste his time by writing a flame email to a VC. Have they never heard of the concepts: “Don’t burn your bridges” or “Move On”?

  • ErikSchwartz

    Carol Bartz’s farewell email (from her iPad) is a classic case of the phenomena.


    I run potentially troublesome emails past my level headed wife.

  • James Mitchell

    Rescheduling any meeting 3 or 4 times is beyond ridiculous.

  • Roman Giverts

    It’s funny, the last time I commented on this blog was 6+ months ago when i left some really angry comment disagreeing with you. You replied with something equally angry, and it went back and forth a couple times. I don’t even remember what it was about! I just remember being bitter and I stopped commenting.

    Perhaps, another example of when not to hit send! I can only imagine what I was SO worked up about….

    Anyway, hope you still remember me. It’s amazing to see how this community has grown. I remember the early days when it was me and the same 10 other people commenting on here regularly. Congrats, you’re a true entrepreneur in everything you do.


  • Trevor Owens

    Keep ’em comin’ Mark. Written like a true disciple of Dale Carnegie. =)

  • msuster

    Thanks, Michael. Well, it’s not a good idea to chew anybody out by email, really.

  • msuster

    “the cleanup is worse than the fight” … ain’t that true.

  • msuster

    Ha. Thanks, Steve. I enjoyed meeting you as well. Hope the gig is going well 

  • msuster

    Totally. I’m going to write a post one day about how being in a startup is like playing a game. You can’t take any of it seriously. But that’s for another day.

  • msuster

    Ha, I do that for most emails. I first address to myself then add recipients when I’m done. I’m always paranoid I’m going to hit send too early.

  • msuster

    I get over it – for sure. But to say my opinion of the person doesn’t change would be a misstatement.

  • msuster

    Funny, after all these years I never knew that Outlook had that option

  • msuster

    In Israel arguing is a sport. The better you are, the more people respect you 😉

  • msuster

    I usually respond with kindness. It makes the flamer feel worse 😉

  • msuster

    Oh, I’ll have to use that one. BUD.

  • msuster

    Ha. That’s really funny actually