Thursday, May 23, 2024

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Email Blunders

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Have you ever written something not-so-nice about a colleague in an

email? Have you ever hit ‘Reply to All’ when you only meant to hit

‘Reply’? Have you ever thought someone was ‘yelling’ at you because they

wrote you an email in ‘ALL CAPS’?

Most likely at least one of these scenarios hits close to home with

you… probably a little too close to home.

Email has become such a relied-upon business tool that your average

worker would probably wrestle anyone trying to take it from them.

According to industry analyst firm the Meta Group, email overtook the

telephone at least two years ago as the preferred communication tool in

the office. A Meta survey showed that 74 percent of businesspeople said

being without email would present more of a hardship than being without

phone service.

For IT professionals, especially, email is a critical tool. Industry

analysts are telling IT workers to become part of the business team, to

learn to communicate with co-workers outside of the IT box. Email is a

primary tool for making that happen. That means good email skills could

kick-start your business ties, but it also means that a few bad emails

could tarnish your efforts.

If not handled just right, email can get you into a lot of trouble, warns

Janis Fisher Chan, author of the new book Email: A Write it Well


”When you’re sending an email, you’re creating an image of yourself to

this other person. Sometimes, it’s not such a good image,” says Chan.

”So many people, in this global industry, are communicating with people

all over the world, and they’re projecting an image of themselves and the

organization that sometimes isn’t credible or considerate or polite.”

Chan says workers often find themselves in hot water because they wrote

something snide or catty about a colleague in an email and then

accidentally sent it to the wrong person… or someone, playing political

games, forwarded it to the person you were talking about. Or they might

be in trouble for accidentally putting more information than they were

supposed to in an email, revealing critical corporate information.

These are all email accidents that could cost you not only your

reputation, but your job.

”People hit ‘Reply to All’ and they send messages that not everybody

should have,” says Chan. ”People don’t stop to think that whoever gets

your message can forward it on either accidentally or deliberately.

Things you say about people can be passed on. Trade secrets could be

released. It can land people in court. If somebody feels that something

in an email is libelous, all the disclaimers people put at the bottom of

a message does no good.

”The worst thing is when email is called in as evidence in a court

case,” she adds. ”People don’t realize email is considered written

documents that can be retrieved and used in court. Even if it’s deleted,

it can be found on computers.”

Creating Perceptions

Even if it’s not serious enough to land you in court, Chan says any one

of the emails you shoot off every day could affect the way people

perceive you. And that alone can affect how well you can get your job

done, and if you’ll move up in the company.

”I just got an email from someone I do not know and it was written in

‘ALL CAPS’ and I have this very negative image of this person that he’s

rude and abrupt,” Chan explains. ”He may be a very nice and efficient

man, but that’s not the image I got from that email.”

Chan says a big part of the problem creates bad emails is that people

just don’t like to write. They would rather whip something off quickly

than take a minute to make sure it’s well written, to the point and

heading off to the right person. It’s simply done all too quickly, she


”People need guidance in writing,” Chan says. ”They tend to write

without thinking. They see writing as a chore. They tend to not be clear.

When it comes to email, which is the most prevalent form of business

communication, they bring all of these problems with them. They write

without rereading it. They write things that shouldn’t be written. They

really need help in stopping and thinking about what they want to say,

what information readers need and the tone they should take.”

Here are some of Chan’s tips for writing better emails:

  • Think before you write. Think about what your message is, who is

    the reader, and should the reader have the message. Is this appropriate

    to write? What if this was published in the newspaper?

  • Respect the reader. Respect their time and respect them enough to

    make sure the message you send is useful. Look at what they’re writing

    from a reader’s point of view. We see writing as something we’re doing.

    But it’s a communication.

  • Read it before you send it if it’s sensitive or difficult or

    important. Save it as a draft and go back to it the next day and look it

    over before you send it.

  • Stop and think about what would happen if someone else sees a copy

    of this. Sometimes you don’t send an email. Sometimes you pick up the

    phone or walk down the hall and speak with someone directly. It’s not

    always smart to put something in writing and it’s not always smart to put

    something in email. Even a letter is more confidential because people

    aren’t as likely to make 2,500 copies and send it out. But with email you

    really don’t know where it’s going to end up.

  • From the managing side, people let all these messages build up in

    their inbox until it’s overwhelming and then they can’t find messages

    that they need. Spend a few minutes a day to clean it up and stay on top

    of it. That makes it a more useful tool.

  • Try not to let email interrupt other activities. Checking what’s in

    your inbox can be much more interesting than whatever else you’re doing.

    You want to check it every five minutes or every time you hear that

    ‘ding’… but don’t. Don’t be the person in the meeting who has one eye

    on his inbox. Don’t let email keep you from getting the rest of your work

    done. Curb email interruptions.

  • Keep the jokes to a minimum and make sure you don’t send out

    anything that could be construed as offensive.

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