E-Mail and Return Buttons

I used to make this mistake all the time — copy a “sensitive” e-mail to the wrong person. And then try to explain that I didn’t really mean what I had said in black and white.

It’s so embarrassing! And so unnecessary.

The last time it happened, I belittled a colleague’s proposition, calling it “insane.” I thought I was speaking only to my partners. But I had neglected to check the “recipient” box before I sent it off. He had been copied on the previous e-mail. And so he was unintentionally copied on mine.

There’s an old bit of wisdom that goes something like this: “Always speak about other people as if they were in your presence.” I’ve never been much good at following this advice. An amazingly high percentage of the calumnies I utter find their way back to the victims. It’s never pretty.

When you say nasty things in print, it’s worse, because it’s permanent. And with e-mail, it’s worst of all, because it is so easy to broadcast the recrimination yourself… and it happens so fast… and you have no control over who forwards what to whom!

I did it at least 50 times before I finally trained myself to be more careful. When writing e-mails today, I follow three simple rules:

1. Never write anything about anyone in an e-mail message that you would not want that person to hear about.

2. When you simply can’t resist a witty barb, think twice before clicking on any button that allows you to send the message automatically to a group of people.

3. Double-check the recipient list every time you send an e-mail. Check the last name, not the first. What you want Paul Smith to read might infuriate Paul Jones.


[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]