Electronic communication is what makes today’s business world spin. Reliance on the instantaneous exchange of information lets us communicate at all hours of the day or night and establish a message trail to keep track of decisions and progress. But, as Hillary Clinton’s email debacle demonstrates, the advantages of electronic communication are offset by the web of blunders and abuses into which reckless emailers can easily become entangled. Even highly intelligent professionals make the occasional e-boo-boo, and in today’s world, they’re more likely to get caught.
Whether innocent or reckless, email misuse can be costly. On a scale of severity, it can range from personal embarrassment to a breach of national security. Because the medium is both rampant and rapid fire, it’s easy to hit send with little thought to the content, tone, or recipient group.
People judge you by the emails you send. Avoid falling prey to common email mistakes by following these five prudent practices:
- Never mix business with pleasure. Hillary’s use of a personal email account in her role as Secretary of State puts a twist on this email rule of thumb. Businesses and government agencies go to great lengths to protect proprietary information shared electronically by creating layers of security, and all work-related communication must take place only through the secure site. Usually, however, the breach comes from misusing business email for personal affairs. Most companies have strict guidelines against this, and monitor employee emails to guard against infractions. While you may not get caught, why risk it?
- Carefully prune your cc list. Overflowing inboxes are a common annoyance for busy professionals. Adding to the email clutter by randomly hitting “reply all” when many of the copied recipients could be removed from the thread is bad email etiquette. Pay attention to your cc list, and keep it to a needs-to-know basis.
- Curt is a four-letter word. Email communication, by its nature, can come off as brusque because it loses the nuance of inflection and modulation of spoken language. Still, if your emails tend to be one-liners, check them for tone. Compensate for brevity with a few courteous fillers — “please” and “thank you” can change a harsh directive into a courteous request.
- Don’t take the bait when responding to a venomous email. Never feel compelled to reply hastily if you’re the intended target of a malicious email. Any impulsive email response could become incriminating. Instead, write your response in dispassionate language, keeping your tone professional, then save it in draft form and let it marinate overnight. Better still, talk the matter over in person. Afterward, send an email to the team saying you and the distressed party have cleared the air.
- Don’t air dirty laundry via email. As much as possible, keep any airing of personal grievances off the ethernet. Remember that any email you send can be saved and shared. Take the high road in all your email exchanges, remaining dispassionate and professional, even in the face of adversity. And, particularly when your dander is up, do yourself a favor and reread what you’ve written before hitting “send.” That second look may allow you to do some critical rewording that otherwise could come back to bite you.