Have you ever wanted to send a coworker an angry email after they pissed you off? The Director of the Humane Society of Central Texas, Gina Ford, certainly did; so, she sat down to write a furious email to one of her volunteers.
Following a difference of opinion, Ford informed volunteer Gail Forrest she had “managed to (expletive) me off for the last time. “ When Forrest pasted the contents of the email on her Facebook page, the public outrage which followed lead to Ford’s firing.
It is unlikely Ford was thinking about the repercussions of her email before she sent it, but you can learn from her mistake. Here are 8 tips to help you avoid the inevitable groan and regret which can occur after you click the send button:
1. Keep it professional.
If you would not walk into a coworker’s cubicle and insult them, you should not do so via email. Unlike an argument where you can deny you said something, an email contains exactly what you typed. Err on the side of caution and keep your messages professional.
2. Do not forward messages indiscriminately.
How many times have you heard someone say “Can you believe they forwarded that message?” Before you forward an email, always review the message stream. The stream may contain sensitive or confidential information which should not be shared with a wider audience. If you only need a portion of the message, copy that portion to a new email.
3. Keep you emails factual.
Email based on a false premise can cause confusion and an unnecessary string of replies. This is especially important when you are documenting an issue. Take the time to make sure your email is factual and relevant.
If your coworker’s inability to finish a task kept you from meeting a tight deadline, you should note that. If this is a chronic issue which you would like addressed, this should be communicated as well. However, writing you “think Mark is a total idiot who may not know the answer to 2 + 2” is unnecessary. It is unlikely to be factual and definitely is not relevant.
4. Remember, it is not what you say but how you say it.
This rule applies to emails as well. For example, imagine that you needed to get feedback from your team members by the end of the day. You could ask for the request in two ways:
Both requests asked for the material to be provided by the end of the day. However, there was a sharp difference in the tone of the two messages. Keep this in mind as you write your emails.
5. Clearly mark confidential messages.
Begin your email subject with “Confidential:“ or “Do Not Forward:”. This quickly helps to set the reader’s expectations before they begin reading your message. If your email program offers additional security features, take advantage of them. Some programs prevent messages from being printed, copied or forwarded.
6. Avoid email wars.
Have you ever been carbon copied (cc) on an email war? Email wars occur when two or more people get into a back and forth via email. This battle often results from a simple misunderstanding. If you are caught in the middle of an email war, suggest a conference call to resolve the issue. Make sure someone is designated to take meeting minutes. When the call is over, the meeting minutes should be sent to ensure everyone walked away with a common understanding.
7. Write clearly and concisely.
Your email should clearly state its purpose so there is no confusion about its intent. This will also prove useful when you return to the email months from now to validate your understanding. Remember, no one wants to read a book when they open their email. While there are times when more detail is warranted to adequately describe an issue, every effort should be made to keep the email concise. Use bulleted and numbered lists to note your key points.
8. Think before you write.
A letter can be shredded, but email is harder to destroy. There are copies kept on your email server, the recipient’s email server, and locally on laptops and desktops. In addition, the mail can be forwarded multiple times. Once you click the send button you loose control over the email. Always take a moment to review your messages before you send them. If you are unsure whether or not you should include something in writing, do not write it.