Email is dangerous. It revolutionized communication the way that machine guns revolutionized firearms – with crazy speed and little requirement for precision. They’re both also really easy ways shoot yourself in the foot.
If you want to avoid the most common mistakes, follow these three rules:
- Don’t discuss sensitive matters on email. Yes, this may significantly cut down on the number of emails you send. But you should not write an email that you would not want to see published on the front page of your local paper. Instead, pick up the phone to discuss hot topics like employee discipline issues, sensitive business data, or whether you think a client is a jerk.
- Don’t “flame” (i.e., send quick, angry responses to emails). Email promotes rapid-fire, spontaneous and imprecise communications that, in the heat of the moment, might feel really good when you hit “send,” but which you may really, really live to regret. Every email is a potential exhibit to a lawsuit or investigation, and usually the most reasonable party will win. So be that reasonable party by resisting that urge to vent, curse or call people liars.
- Don’t assume that your emails will never see the light of day. It doesn’t take Kremlin hackers or Wikileaks to get access to your old emails. If you get sued and go through discovery, a minor league IT consultant hired by the opposing law firm can get to pretty much anything. And emails are forever – there is no such thing as “deleted.” Once I recovered an email from an lawsuit opponent that said, “Don’t worry. I deleted all our emails so the lawyers can’t get to them.” That was a good day – for me and my client.
Heeding these few words of advice will greatly decrease your company’s risk of self-inflicted email injury. If you don’t, you risk handing over some dangerous materials during a lawsuit or investigation.