“It was 1999,” Charlie said. “An executive VP had just started at the 500-person company I was working for. A week later, he announced to the company – via e-mail – his first big initiative. The plan was to eliminate an expensive consulting group and bring the work in-house.

“Only problem? The consulting group had been working for our company so long that they’d been included in the company-wide e-mail directory for convenience. So the e-mail went right to them too. Talk about an embarrassing mess!”

Ever since Charlie told me this story, I haven’t looked at e-mail the same way.

Public embarrassment is a very real potential side effect of the ease and convenience of e-mail. It’s so simple to type out a few words and hit “send.” In seconds, you can invite 25 people to a meeting… send your entire office a reminder about the staff party next weekend… or jot off a quick note to a coworker.

But it’s just as easy to send an e-mail to the wrong person. Or for someone to forward your e-mail to someone who wasn’t meant to see it. And bam! Your credibility goes right out the window.

Since I work remotely, e-mail is my primary form of business communication. And I’ve had tons of my e-mails – those meant specifically for one set of eyes – forwarded or copied to others. I have even, on occasion, sent an e-mail to the wrong person. But I’ve developed a couple of rules to help protect me – and my (unintended) recipients.

  1. Don’t fill in the “to” field in your e-mail until AFTER you’ve written and re-read your message.
  2. If an e-mail could have potentially negative consequences – if, for example, you’re critiquing someone else’s work or disagreeing with them – let it rest for a day or two before you send it.
  3. Don’t say anything in an e-mail you wouldn’t want your boss – or mother – to read. That may sound limiting. But somehow it’s those heated “I hate so-and-so” e-mails that tend to wind up in their inbox.
  4. If something is really sensitive, don’t say it in an e-mail. Using the phone and calling a one-on-one meeting are still great ways to communicate.
  5. ALWAYS double-check the “to” field before you hit send.

Keep these rules in mind whenever you write an e-mail. You could save your career.

[Ed. Note: Learn how you can accomplish all your professional – and personal – goals with ETR’s Total Success Achievement program. ]

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