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A Thing

Article published in Issue Number: 061201

E-mail manners

Water Cooler Wisdom

Every improvement in communication makes the bore more terrible.

- Frank Moore Colby

Water Cooler Quotes Archive

E-mail programs and the Internet have made business communications easier and more efficient. If we were hunched over typewriters gripping eraser pencils with our carbon-stained fingertips, business transactions would sputter and crawl rather than zip around the world inbox to inbox. Our digital world has its benefits, and e-mail is certainly one of them.

But, as with any powerful tool, e-mail correspondence must be managed carefully. We all know that nothing is private when it comes to e-mail. We also know we should always maintain professionalism when drafting e-mail messages.

But there's a rub. We know we should always be mindful in our use of e-mail, especially on the job, but are we? Probably not. Rest easy, an infrequent note to a friend during business hours, or a random forwarding of a clean joke or funny video usually isn't cause for alarm.

However, e-mail can come back and bite us if we grow lax in its use. Sometimes we feel so comfortable with the medium that we blithely send notes or forward messages that might actually work against us.

You probably don't even think about it. You are working and you notice you have a new message in your inbox. It contains a humorous joke or video, which you enjoy, and you forward it to a few friends and co-workers. You then go back to work. It's over and done. But is it?

E-mail sticks to you like glue

That e-mail now has your address associated with it. Is it something you want linked to you as it travels throughout the world? Each person who receives it down the line will see your information. Are you comfortable with that?

Remember, you're probably working with at least one person you haven't met face to face. E-mail is the entire medium for conveying who you are to those you've never seen. Be sure to use the medium wisely.

Here's a good rule of thumb when drafting e-mail messages: If you would feel awkward or uncertain saying the words aloud in front of your boss and co-workers, don't send them in an e-mail.

If the idea of your e-mail being tacked to the break room bulletin board sends shudders down your spine, don't click Send, because, in essence, tacking it up for all to see is exactly what you will be doing.

Any e-mail can be intercepted, and just about all businesses reserve the right to access any employee's mailbox. After all, it's the company's equipment, and they are paying you for your time. So they own what you are writing and sending.

Sometimes the inappropriateness of certain e-mail messages is not as obvious as one containing a joke or video. Sometimes it's office gossip or rumors. You don't need to churn the waters when you encounter cyberspace meddlers. Resist the urge.

If you really must catch up on office gossip, do it the old-fashioned way: Hang out by the water cooler, in the restroom or in the outside smoking section. At least in those places you will not commit your indiscretions to writing.

The limitations of :-)

Another way people get into trouble with e-mail is quite inadvertent. When we talk to someone face to face, a good portion of our communication is nonverbal. It is conveyed through tone of voice, pauses between words, facial expressions and, of course, body language. Also, the give-and-take of a face-to-face conversation is a crucial factor that enhances understanding.

With e-mail we don't have any of that. We simply have the words and symbols of a one-sided conversation. While an e-mail you wrote may seem fine to you, its recipient may view it differently. A hurried e-mail may be perceived as rude. An attempt at sarcasm may be deemed offensive. The list of what you thought were merely questions may be perceived as accusations.

No matter how busy you are, take the time to reread your e-mails before you send them. If you are truly too busy to do that, wait and send messages when you have more time. If you have any inkling an e-mail could be misconstrued, rewrite it. Or, pick up the phone. When you are uncertain whether to telephone or send an e-mail, choose the former.

If you are dealing with a sensitive issue, a personal matter or a topic that requires a dialogue rather than a simple exchange of information, talk in person when possible.

Finally, it doesn't necessarily matter what e-mail account you are using. It matters what computer you are using. If you send an e-mail from your home account using a work computer, its trail can still be traced. Don't risk it. No joke is that funny. No comment is worth risking your reputation or your job.

So, be smart. Mind your e-mail manners.

Article published in issue number 061201

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