Practicing good email etiquette makes practical business sense as well as good dollars and cents—and could also save you or a co-worker from a broken nose some day.
Email, like the cellular telephone, has become ingrained in our personal and professional lives. It's difficult, if not impossible, to avoid email in the modern world, but like the ubiquitous cell phone, email is widely misused and abused. Abusing email can and does destroy important relationships with customers, colleagues, family and friends.
Simply put, sending improper or inappropriate email may cost you dearly both professionally and personally.
At this point, some readers may be raising their eyebrows because they haven't encountered such problems. If so, consider yourself very fortunate. Most email users I know and work with are disappointed—even disgusted—with the email they receive. Let me respectfully point out some things you may not want to do with email.
First and foremost, never send anything via email that may be offensive, sensitive, confidential, etc. If you so much as suspect a potential problem or embarrassment, don't send it!
After all, an electronic message isn't like a fishing line that you can reel right back. Not only is a sent message gone for good, it's out in cyberspace indefinitely. Once you send that email, it's available to anyone and everyone who can access the Internet.
More than one email sender has learned the hard way that certain friends or business colleagues aren't nearly as discrete as the sender assumed they were. This person may have emailed anything from a crude cartoon, vulgar ethnic joke or office gossip to a confidential list of special customer discounts. Then, to the amazement of the sender, friends and colleagues forward this email to anyone they choose.
Simple embarrassment is just the beginning of the potential repercussions here—and more often than not, there's no explaining your way out of the situation. Once again, always think twice before clicking that “send” button.
Furthermore, many senders underestimate their recipients' computer skills. More than one inattentive person has clicked the wrong command, forwarding a sensitive email instead of saving or deleting it. There have been instances where someone was careless enough to accidentally forward an indiscrete note to his or her entire address list.
Some email buddies grossly underestimate the scope of modern technology. For example, they misjudge computer experts' ability to trace emails.
Or they don't realize that some employers are monitoring email due to suspicious or improper use of company email. Surprise…management has caught those racy video clips that you've been forwarding to co-workers. (Try telling your boss that they're from the correspondence course you're taking in anatomy.)
A word to the wise: Don't multitask like a fiend while on the Internet. Pay more attention to those computer commands. For example, observe the person who sips coffee, nibbles a doughnut, holds a telephone receiver to one ear and talks to a co-worker simultaneously. Then, in spite of these seemingly obvious distractions, the person is baffled by the fact he or she misdirected a confidential or sensitive email to the wrong people. (Even your technicians in the service bays know to pay extra attention when using powerful tools.)
More and more companies post confidentiality warnings on emails. Some people want to play curbstone lawyers, questioning the legalities of email warnings and/or email monitoring tactics. They either forget or don't know the simplest way to completely dodge potential legal hassles here, which is: Use email professionally and discretely.
Lastly, hope that you never come face to face with someone who took particular umbrage at the ethnic cartoon you routed throughout the company. You may find yourself, as the British say, with a “painful face full of fives.”