We all know how it feels like to send an email, only to realize you’ve included an embarrassing mistake in it. Or even worse, you accidentally hit Reply All and sent your embarrassing mistake to the entire office. Before you start cringing at the thought of what you’ve done, we have some good news for you: A lot of email clients give people the ability to recall emails after they’ve been sent.
In this guide, we’ll teach you exactly how to recall an email in Outlook, Microsoft’s popular email service. If you use Outlook to manage your email, check out the step-by-step process below for an easy way to pull those emails back from the brink.
Steps to recall Outlook emails
Step 1: Open your Sent Items folder, and look for the email you want to recall — it should be at the top of the list. Double-click to fully open it.
Step 2: Check the top of the window and make sure that you are in the Message tab. Then look for the drop-down menu that says Actions. It should be next to the Rules and Move email options in your taskbar.
Step 3: Click Actions followed by Recall This Message.
Note: You need an Exchange account for this option to be available. Also note that certain administrators may block this option, depending on your organization.
Step 4: You should now see the recall window that allows you to choose between simply deleting the unread copies of the message, or replacing the copy with a new message that contains proper information. You also get an option to receive a report on whether the recall succeeds or fails, on a recipient-by-recipient basis. Make the appropriate selections based on your situation, and then select OK.
If you deleted the message, congratulations — you just saved that embarrassing email from being read. If you want to replace it, continue on.
Step 5: If you create a replacement message, Outlook will take you to a new compose message screen. Just select Send whenever you are ready to start the recall process.
Note: If you send a recall message, it doesn’t exactly make your old email disappear. We’ll talk a little more about this is the section below, but in order to have the original message disappear, the recipient may have to open the recall message first. This is why it may be a good idea to put “URGENT” or something similar in the title of your recall message to make sure it gets opened before the other email.
Why email recall doesn’t always work
Starting the recall process doesn’t mean that it will work out the way you intended. With today’s internet speeds (unless you live in a dead zone) that mistaken email is probably already waiting in someone’s inbox, which creates a number of issues. Here are the factors that can nullify your recall — or at least make it more complicated.
- Opening messages: Basically, if a recipient opens your email, you can’t recall it. The recipient can still get the recall message and note that you really wanted to delete the first email, but it will stay in their Outlook system anyway. When that email is opened, all bets are off. That’s one reason why it’s important to act quickly.
- Redirects to other folders: If your first message activated a filter and was rerouted to a folder that isn’t the inbox, then your recall will fail. Bottom line, the recall option can only affect emails that stay around in the inbox. If the first message is waiting elsewhere, it won’t go away.
- Public folders: Public folders can make things complicated because if anyone reads your first email, the recall will fail. It doesn’t matter which recipient or login account tags the email as read, it’s still too late.
- Additional email apps: The recall function is designed to work with Outlook. If you are sending to someone who uses Gmail, for example, you can’t expect the recall option to work.
- Mobile apps: If you are using Exchange ActiveSync settings for Outlook on mobile devices, then the recall option may not work either. This happens because the system is trying to juggle different versions of Outlook as it syncs and it can’t complete the process, especially if your mobile device is offline.
We know it seems like there are a lot of pitfalls to this handy little feature. The solution to these potential snafus? If your recalls just aren’t working, we’ve got two ideas for you to improve the scenario:
Solution 1: Write an apology. Other than making sure to double-check your emails before you send them, this is the simplest solution to the problem. If you mistakenly sent an email to the wrong person/people and it wasn’t too egregious, it’s often better to save your time and tack on a quick “oops” apology note. This works for most people and you can stop worrying about it.
Solution 2: Delay your emails. If you have a case of email butterfingers or are always busy replying and forwarding more sensitive types of information, you may want to consider delaying your emails. You can do this for all emails by going to File, selecting Manage Rules and Alerts, and choosing New Rule. Start from a Blank Rule, and skip conditions so that all emails are covered. Then in Step 1, select Defer delivery by a number of minutes. If you delay it by a couple of minutes, you can recall messages far more effectively when mistakes are made.
If this whole process has soured you on the Outlook email client, you could always use a disposable address.