AKRON (Oct. 23, 2006) — E-mail will serve you well as long as you use it thoughtfully and professionally.
Those who treat it indiscreetly or childishly will regret it in the worst way.
But first, allow me to make full disclosure. This topic has been in my story idea file for many months. No sooner had I decided to address it when the mess in the U.S. House of Representatives exploded on the nation's front pages. What better example of arrogance and indiscretion could I cite?
In fact, the news has been full of e-mail indiscretions for years now. Every time I turned around, it seemed that I was reading about more celebrities, politicians or public figures having their own e-mail messages turned against them in one entanglement or another. Surely, the same thing can happen to a tire dealer or service shop operator.
Plus, I can't recall the number of people I hear in airports, restaurants and/or business gatherings talking about e-mail blunders committed by both bosses and co-workers. In some instances, they say, it has cost the company business or cost some people—including top managers—their jobs.
Whether it's the news stories I read or the scuttlebutt I hear, I can't believe that people could be as careless as described. All too often, emotion seems to prevail over good sense.
OK, e-mail is usually available to everyone from tire busters up to owners and managers. Therefore, everyone having the ability and opportunity to use e-mail at your dealership and/or service shop should follow the same sensible rules. First and foremost, it is essential to recognize that e-mail is not a private form of communication. Or, realize that it's not nearly as private as a telephone call or business letter.
Another way to look at the issue is that e-mail is only as private as the recipient of your message chooses to make it. Indeed, there will be times when e-mail senders must make tough decisions as to which recipients they truly trust and which ones they don't. Treat those who have shown themselves to be careless or indiscreet accordingly. Yes, this does take the fun and convenience out of using e-mail.
If you aren't sure about a recipient, my advice is to never write an e-mail or forward a message that won't stand up to outside scrutiny. This includes topics ranging from comments about co-workers and suppliers, to price quotes, business plans and disputes with customers. After all, even a colleague or co-worker you deem trustworthy can make a stupid mistake.
My favorite example is a friend and colleague who wrote a scathing assessment of someone we know and accidentally clicked the SEND ALL command on his e-mail. This meant that this message went out to his entire e-mail address list—including the person he criticized!
Furthermore, recipients routinely forward messages to others without a second thought. True, many e-mails are marked confidential or “for your eyes only” but are forwarded on to others anyway. This can be particularly dicey when someone decides to forward only part of an e-mail. Then the item becomes extra controversial because it's been taken out of context.
Once again, the sender is entirely at the mercy of the recipient's judgment. This creates unlimited potential for professional embarrassment and conflict.
This leads me to a critical corollary to my golden rule. Don't forward any e-mail that wouldn't stand up to outside scrutiny. Years ago, risquÃ&Copy; jokes or illustrations were reproduced on mimeographs and personally passed from one employee to another. By the late 1980s the facsimile (fax) machine became the preferred mode of transmitting dirty drawings and jokes.
Eventually the Internet far surpassed the fax machine in power and reach. But as some workers have already learned, employees and managers never know for sure if their e-mail's being monitored and/or how closely it's being watched.
Many companies have made e-mail an indispensable part of their businesses. That's very progressive. All I'm stressing here is that only a fool would fail to recognize, anticipate and cope with the downsides to this incredible technology.
Or as some of my pals in South Philadelphia always said, “It only counts when you get caught!”