If you’re like most members of Corporate America huge chunks of your day are spent reading and responding to email. Any number of surveys from email providers and productivity solution platforms will tell you that there is a flood of information flowing in and out of your inbox. I get it – email is easy. In less than a minute, with a few taps on your keyboard you can quickly communicate requests, respond to questions or share feedback and get on with your day.
That said, as a communications counselor I’m imploring you to please, please, please learn when to get off your darn email! It is a hotbed for damage, risk, lawsuits, compliance failure and miscommunication.
Not a week goes by that someone isn’t dragged through the mud for information that they put into an email. In recent weeks, this included Eli Manning for allegedly having involvement in a memorabilia scheme. America’s Test Kitchen is airing founder Christopher Kimball’s emails as part of a PR campaign for its lawsuit, making sure that the documents are front and center for anyone Googling the famous chef after his recent run of morning show appearances. French President-elect, Emmanuel Macron warned of a massive hack and corresponding email leaks prior to his election this month. And who can forget classic email leaks, like when Scott Rudin was exposed in the Sony hack for calling out Angelina Jolie as a “a minimally talented spoiled brat.”
It happens ALL. THE. TIME. And you are not immune.
Start protecting yourself and your organization with these four tips before you hit send on your next email:
1. Take a minute (or five!). Anything that is so mission critical that it requires an instant response can – and should – be handled with a phone call or a face-to-face exchange. It’s ok to gather your thoughts before your fingers hit the keys of your keyboard. Full stop.
2. Keep it short. The longer your email is the more trouble you can create. Email isn’t the place to think-out-loud. Keep your message to about 10 lines or consider another method for communicating your message – a memo, a presentation, a call.
3. Apply T.H.I.N.K – We’re good about teaching this acronym to our kids, but it’s an important reminder for executives, too. Before you say anything in writing, ask yourself:
– Is it True?
– Is it Helpful?
– Is it Inspiring?
– Is it Necessary?
– Is it Kind?
If your email doesn’t clearly fit this simple criteria – STOP. Revise your message.
4. Read your message out loud. Even if you’ve taken the time to T.H.I.N.K through your message – you’re not done yet. Read your email out loud without any expression in your voice. Would you feel comfortable reading the message in front of your mom? Do you think a jury would understand any jokes you wrote? Would you feel OK if the email was reprinted on the front page of the Wall Street Journal? When I look into my magic crystal ball, I can predict that sooner than later, a cable news analyst or anchor will go crazy talking about information that was uncovered in private email. The only thing that’s hazy is whose emails will be plastered all over the screen.