Although email only came into general use after 1993, it seems as if we’ve never been without it. Now you can send email to almost anyone, anywhere, on the planet, instantly.
But as important a tool as it is, it can also be an easy way to ruin a relationship (business or personal), sink a reputation, cause personal and professional embarrassment or actual harm by writing damaging commentary, and possibly drop the author into legal hot water.
Here are some basic rules and responsibilities to be aware of:
DON’T WRITE IN CAPS! er… sorry, I didn’t mean to shout. And when you put an exclamation point at the end, you are really angry. I had a friend who simply liked caps so he wouldn’t have to worry about the shift key, until it was pointed out writing in caps meant he was SHOUTING, and how offensive his emails appeared, unintentionally.
Don’t go crazy with abbreviations, emoticons and/or emojis J. They might be more appropriate when texting on cell phones, but when you have the space in emails, it comes across as less than professional or simply too cute. I do admit to having a few favourite abbrevs of my own, however I only use them with close contacts: BTW – by the way, ATB- all the best, NAC – not a chance!
Don’t write and send an email when you’re angry. It’s too easy to say things you would never say to a person face-to-face, or even over a phone. If you want the therapeutic release, write your face off then ….. delete it. If you want to save it for later revision, print it. But don’t leave it in a digital form that could be prematurely or accidently sent. Once it’s gone, there’s no way to take it back.
Do take a sober second look: If you are having a dispute with someone, if you feel the need to write a critical (or scathing) review of a business, and you don’t know the nuances of liable and slander, or if you are tempted to accuse someone of wrong-doing, be very careful. You may liable someone or cause irreparable harm with an ill-prepared email. The visceral satisfaction will likely not last anywhere near as long as the hurt caused your target and yourself. If you feel such a communication is necessary (and there are times when it’s appropriate) have a lawyer look at it first to ensure it’s not going to cause actionable damage. Bottom-line, will sending it do anything positive toward resolving the dispute?
Do be careful communicating confidential information: Whether the content is problematic as above, or contains confidential information, emails are too easy to pass along to others by your recipients. They may not put the same value as you on the confidentiality of your communication. With old fashioned snail-mail, it was often too much work to pass information along when you needed to buy a stamp, copy the information by hand and then walk it out to a mailbox (undoubtedly in the snow). For sure it was not practical to distribute something to half the city.