I met with an ex-colleague last week who was in trouble at work as a result of email. I’m surprised there are not more incidences of this but then again perhaps there are, we just don’t hear about them. Basically this person had reached the end of their tether over a colleague and was sending a particularly ‘ranty’ email to their manager only to find to their horror as they pressed send that they were so hung up on this particular person that they had inadvertently typed their name in the ‘To’ box by mistake. What was a difficult relationship just got worse.
This got me thinking about the types of things you should and shouldn’t do in an email, so here goes:
1) Count to ten – Never send an email when emotionally charged. This is what my former colleague did which resulted in them making such a huge mistake. Take a break and revisit it after a period of time and 9 times out of 10 you will make a much more sound judgement and not send at all. In fact, if what you had intended to say was potentially so damaging you should communicate this with your manager face to face.
2) Beware reply to all – I rarely reply to all. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I find it irritating when my inbox gets blocked by a discussion involving a large group on an issue which although I may have been copied into I have very little interest in. However, every time someone clicks reply to all I get yet another strand of the discussion. The second reason is that I have dealt with countless PR scandals when a damaging email was replied to all and some of the recipients took offence and leaked it to the press. The lesson is, unless you have to, please don’t reply all.
3) Don’t row – Really important this as a row via email can not only lead to you losing your cool (see tip no.1) but during your row you may say something that may be used against you or even be cited as evidence if the subject of your row ends up getting referred to in a tribunal. As per lesson one avoid emotions.
4) Don’t email if tired – I was once told a great story of a PR who wanted to email a journalist an exclusive story and ended up emailing that journalist’s main competitor with the story by mistake as he was tired. The problem he had was that his email referred to the person he had intended it to go to. As a result he annoyed both reporters as his intended journalist had lost a scoop but his rival had realised the scoop was being given to the rival exclusively. If you are tired, go to bed!
5) Avoid round robins – Again, using experience of dealing with the aftermath – do not simply forward emails to others assuming they will receive them in the context you have. This particularly applies to jokes, political leaflets or any other slightly risky material. If you forward this on and there is a backlash against it you will be accused of supporting it and be subject to any future actions.
6) Data protection – I do a lot of work in the safeguarding field and deal with sensitive material a lot. This never goes into an email.The simple reason is that an email can be subject to a future FOI request and if it is found that you discussed highly sensitive issues over email when you shouldn’t have you’re in trouble. If it is important or sensitive, arrange a meeting to discuss instead.
7) Avoid massive address lists – I receive one email every now and then that has over 200 people in the ‘To’ box. Not only is this the most bizarre thing you could see when the address list is often ten times as long as the email itself but there is very little chance this email will be relevant to me. Keep them focused and to the point.
8) Pick up the phone – You know what, sometimes it is just better to pick up the phone. It’s an outdated pastime I know but it is more sociable and just plain friendly. Go on, give it a try.