I was recently the recipient of a group email from an administrator. You know the kind I mean…an announcement of sorts intended for an entire group. The message targeted 10 to 15 people who needed information that the administrator wanted to share all at once. The message itself was generic enough. At least from my point of view, the message was informational, and that was it.
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Imagine my surprise and dismay, then, when a few minutes later, a long response popped up in my inbox as a “reply to all” even though the message clearly targeted the sender of the original message. The tone of that message was angry, and the writer was clearly miffed. It was the kind of message that didn’t need to be sent to the entire group, and in fact, in my opinion it was the sort of message that should never have been put in an email at all. In this case, the response was one that warranted a phone call between those two people.
That wasn’t even the worst of it, however. In addition to replying to all, and thus sharing their upset with the entire group, this individual decided to call out an individual who hadn’t been included in the original message! The information shared was both personal and derogatory. It had no place in that message, and again, would have been better said in person.
It reminded me that sometimes even the most professional of us can make a mistake when it comes to email protocol. I know I have committed my share of faux pas. Early in the days of email, I made the mistake of sending a similarly inappropriate message disparaging an individual in writing. The message then landed in the wrong mailbox. I received a message from someone who had the same name as the person for whom I had intended the message. The recipient was kind enough to share that he was pretty sure he wasn’t the intended recipient of my email. Lesson learned: make sure you have the right email address AND be careful what you put in writing, even if you think you know to whom you are sending the message.
Here are some rudimentary rules that I think everyone should observe when it comes to email:
NEVER say anything in an email that can be construed as disparaging, disrespectful or insubordinate.
If you have something to say that goes in that vein, remember that whatever you write stays in cyberspace FOREVER. There is no such thing as “delete” when it comes to email. Even if you remove the offending missive from your computer, it remains “out there” on a server where it can be retrieved at any time. And what you write about someone CAN be held against you…so beware.
Only use the “reply to all” option when it is a generic message that applies to everyone on the receiving end.
Don’t use that option indiscriminately. Be sure you intend for everyone to see you having a hissy fit if you are writing about something that has upset you or angered you. You will lessen the esteem that others have for you when you have devolved into a public display, even if you truly feel that a hissy fit is warranted.
NEVER write an email when you are angry.
Or at least if you write it, DON’T HIT SEND until you have taken the time to calm down. I have also made that mistake, so I know it doesn’t go well. In my case, I got the situation resolved, but only after realizing just how inappropriate my message had been and after offering a heartfelt and sincere apology to the recipients of the angry message. If you need to get your anger and frustration out of your system, fine. Write to your heart’s content but DO NOT HIT SEND!
Avoid using email instead of picking up the phone when a phone call is warranted.
I am guilty of this one, too, unfortunately. We have become far too reliant on email, and we need to remember that there are times when that is an appropriate form of communication, and there are times when it isn’t. The same goes for texting. I have been told that young people no longer even check their email…they text and if watching from afar is any indication they are texting all the time. Pick up the phone and if they don’t answer, leave a message telling them that you need to talk to them and request that they call back at their earliest convenience. Avoid putting anything in writing that might be misread or misconstrued. In communication, tone means a lot, and it often gets lost in email. Use the phone when you need to convey a message that might have an emotional undertone.
Keep your email messages short and to the point.
Avoid long, rambling messages. Keep your emails to one point at a time. If you have multiple ideas to convey, prepare the reader from the get-go that you have a lot of information that you need to communicate, and you need them to read to the end. Otherwise, most people will only read the subject heading and the first paragraph. After that, you may lose them. Keep your email messages short and concise.
Email is a great tool and it is hard to imagine doing business in today’s world without it. Having said that, it has its hazards and its limitations. Be mindful of both and when you feel that you need to convey an emotionally charged message to someone, pick up the phone or wait until your cooler, more thoughtful side can prevail. You do not need to ruin your reputation with an ill thought out, badly delivered email message.
This post was originally published at an earlier date.
Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT is a former educator turned Career Transition and Job Strategy Coach specializing in working with teachers who are experiencing the painful symptoms of job burnout. She also works with mid-career professionals from all walks of life who find themselves at a career crossroads either by chance or by choice. Learn more about Kitty at TeachersinTransition.com or at Boitnott Coaching.com.
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