How To…Think Before You Send E-Mails

Can e-mail be helpful? What about annoying? Wasteful? Productive? Or costly? The answer is yes, to all of the above. Although e-mail can be enormously helpful in getting useful information to editors or clients at lightning speed, too often we don't respect or realize there is a downside to this split-second technology. Keep in mind that there are no warning lights or brakes on the keyboard. E-mailing can be like hopping onto a high-speed train, careening down a mountainside, with your career, your company's reputation and your future on board. Too many of us just can't seem to stop ourselves when we get to the keyboard. But since our computers don't come equipped with a time-delay "think before you e" button, these eye-opening concepts may prove useful and help you appreciate the need to slow down. 1. Note life span and wing-span of e-mail. Although an e-mail may have taken you only 20 seconds to write, it can be saved, shared or resurrected for years. And we all know how tempting it is to share a really juicy e-mail with others. If you pass along a particularly funny or scandalous e-mail to only three or four friends and they and their buddies do the same, your e-mail may be read by thousands of people worldwide before the end of the day. 2. Control e-rage. If ever there were an area where you need to get a grip on your temper and your judgment, it's e-mailing. E-rage has stunted more careers than you can imagine. The head of an agency where a friend of mine worked went on a vitriolic rant about the untidiness of the office kitchen at about 10 a.m. By noon, the e-mail had made its way to more than 20 offices around the globe. Someone thought the tone was very telling. [Note: It will be interesting to see how popular Google's Goggle self-censorship option becomes. It prevents late-night users from e-mailing under the influence (EUI) by requiring e-mailers in the wee hours to pass some simple mathematical calculations before enabling the "send" function.] 3. Monitor inappropriate e-mails or Internet use on employers' time and on their equipment. Many companies have a written policy about e-mail and Internet usage, in which a violation can lead to termination. One company's policy states that employees may not "access, download, save, request, transmit, store or purposely view sexual, pornographic, obscene, racist, profane or other offensive or inappropriate material." Here the company decides what is "offensive" or "inappropriate." It goes without saying that it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with your employer's policies and understand where thumbing your nose may lead. 4. Protect your rights with e-mail as backup. Of course, e-mail is a tool, and like all tools it can be used in a safe and effective manner. Let me give you one example: A friend of mine had been serving as a PR consultant for a medical company for about six years when the company made a failed attempt to go public. The original management was ousted and a new regime took the helm. The PR director, who stayed on, started questioning past due bills that the PR consultant had rendered. It became clear that the director was trying to ingratiate herself with her new bosses by appearing tough and trying to disassociate herself from her own past actions. My friend, however, had kept his quite voluminous record of e-mails with the PR director. The e-mails laid out a clear record of authorizations and kudos for the work in question. My friend told me that the $60,000 payment of past due bills was a nice reward for adopting a simple practice of using e-mails to set forth and clarify understandings reached with his clients. 5. Unearth buried e-mail treasures. This is one of my favorite e-mail stories because it happened to me. As a subscriber to ProfNet--an online community that connects reporters with informed sources--I often read the e-mail requests that the service sends out on behalf of editors. I spied one from Discover Magazine asking for additional entries for a science innovation award competition the magazine was sponsoring, and sent it on to one of my clients, for whom it was made to order. After a bit of cajoling and urging, my client agreed to our making a submission. Once the entry was submitted, we went on to other matters and, in truth, pretty much forgot about it. Many months later I got an excited call--my client and his family had just been invited to Disney World for the award dinner where he accepted the top award and the $100,000 prize. So the e-mail sword cuts both ways: While e-mail can be dangerously tricky in many respects, it can be enormously beneficial at other times. PRN CONTACT: This article was written by MJ Wyatt, president of Wyatt Communications LLC. Wyatt offers media relations, branding support, issues management, product positioning and employee communications. She can be reached at

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