Don’t be lulled into thinking that because people use contractions, abbreviations, and are more personal in e-mail, that it is a “casual conversation” — the opposite is true. When you e-mail someone, you are creating a formal written record of that conversation. Prepare an e-mail in the same manner you would any other form of communication. Use correct grammar, and be clear and specific. When it comes to a legal proceeding, the e-mail you prepare and send, if damaging to either side, can have tremendous impact.
On the other hand, some people do not realize that their e-mail communications, because they are often brief and curt, may read more severe or serious than originally intended. Give some thought to softening the edges of your writing by using “warm phrases,” and keep the sarcasm to a minimum unless you’re 100% certain that the recipient of your e-mail will “get the joke.”
Count to Ten Before Hitting the Send Button
For some reason, e-mail is not often reviewed by the drafter with the same attention as conventional letters. Always proof your e-mails carefully before sending them. Your recipient may very well take action based on misinformation, or forward the e-mail to some other innocent recipient. Likewise, spelling and grammatical mistakes appear unprofessional and can negatively affect the way people view you and your business. One of the most effective ways to prevent such mistakes is to read your e-mails out loud before sending them, and if it’s a particularly important e-mail, have someone else proofread your work.
The Re-Appearing E-mail
Just because you deleted an e-mail does not mean it no longer exists. With the increasing breadth and popularity of electronic discovery, the computer forensic industry has become quite adept at recovering negative information that computer users thought they had deleted.
Get Off Your Chair
It is not a good practice to criticize someone in an e-mail. If you have a disagreement with a subordinate or fellow employee, use the phone, or better yet, visit the person’s office or workstation (if it is nearby). Talking is still the best form of communication, especially when emotions are involved. The old saying, “write it, regret it” certainly applies to electronic communications.
E-mails are to Announce and Explain
They are not typically to convince. If you want to convince someone of something, it is typically better to talk to them. E-mail is helpful when you need to break down complex arguments in writing for clarity, to facilitate review by several individuals at the same time, or when talking (in person or on the telephone) is not a feasible alternative due to time pressures.
Break the Chain
Do not forward chain letters or offensive jokes. Your time is too valuable, and this sets a bad example for other employees. Also, such material can become problematic if the recipient does not share your sense of humor or gets offended. This scenario often leads to employee allegations of discrimination and/or sexual harassment (see #8 – The Harassing E-mail). Worse yet, you don’t know with whom your initial recipient might share your material.
The Harassing E-mail
Demonstrative evidence is an extremely powerful litigation tool. Judges and juries love to see things in black and white, and for maximum effect, these e-mails are often blown up in a larger size at trial. Your human resources policy handbook should include the warning that employees should never put in e-mail anything that could be interpreted as sexually suggestive, racist, or otherwise offensive in nature.
Ensure Your E-mail is Received
For important e-mails (if we cannot obtain an electronic acknowledgment that the e-mail is read), our firm makes it a practice to call our clients or business colleagues, or to request that they acknowledge receipt of our e-mail communication. It is an invaluable practice which conveys a sense of professionalism that is well worth your extra time.
Routinely Organize Your E-mails
Your e-mail has become your “source files” for much of the information you need regarding your clients and customers. The easier it is for you to access this information, the better it is for you. Take a few minutes out of the day to organize your e-mails by subject, client, date — whatever works best for you. Adding this step into your daily routine will save you time in the long run.
Following these simple ideas will better help you to maintain the right tone in your corporate communications, avoid legal liability and increase your own productivity.