Smart email use is all about common sense.
By Eric Wilinski
Just because e-mail is an everyday part of life in the office doesn't mean it's something you don't have to think carefully about. Sending or receiving ill-conceived or improper email via your work account can lead to everything from embarrassment to disciplinary action.
Or both. Consider the case of one London couple, which last year had their private email correspondence forwarded around the world after the young man involved forwarded a sexually revealing email from the young woman to some pals at work. In addition to the resulting ignominy both suffered, the young man involved became the subject of an investigation by his law firm.
Of course, your email gaffes are most likely not going to turn you into a global laughingstock. But office email, when used improperly, can undermine your efforts to get ahead in your career. Following are some tips to help you use email to your advantage rather than detriment.
Keep it short and sweet. Email is not a form of communication that lends itself to long missives. If you do send a long e-mail-if you send a product description to a potential client, for instance, or if you send a clarification of departmental policy to your colleagues - make sure you go over the details in person as well as in your email, since relying on your email to communicate all the details often fails. And use paragraphs-readers have a much easier time deciphering longer emails that impart information in discreet, readable chunks than in endless-seeming blocks of text.
Avoid discussing sensitive information. Despite the seeming harmlessness of email, it is not really private; just ask the London couple mentioned above. It's way too simple for the recipient of your email to forward it to others. And remember that your company can access any email going into or out of your account. Rule number one for emailing sensitive information: Assume that any email you send will be read by people other than its intended recipients.
Another reason to avoid including sensitive information in e-mail is that you might change your mind about whether you want to let that information be known. Michael Eisner, for instance, once sent financial information about Disney to journalists without realizing it had not yet been publicly released. Rule number two for emailing sensitive information: Think before you hit "send."
Know when to use email, and when to have a discussion in person or over the phone. These days people like to use email for all kinds of purposes for which it is usually not ideal. If you want to brainstorm, or to manage or critique others, it's usually best to do so in person - or, failing that, over the phone.
There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, email does not communicate unspoken nuances the way personal communication does. For another, people are often not as "present" when they read email as they are in a real-time meeting. Think about it: How many times have you thought you communicated something perfectly clearly via email, only to have to go over it all again later in person?