Email is one of the most convenient ways to be impetuously stupid, so if you are writing an email you wouldn't want your boss to read — or the SEC, or your grandma — then don't send it.

Assume that everything you write via email will appear in the business section of the newspaper. Compose your messages with care and pause before you send; ask yourself, “Does this email make me look good?” Obviously, if you are about to lie or cheat, do not send an email to document your lack of ethics. But there are some other, less obvious types of email which won't make you a felon, but they won't make you look good, either, so don't send them.

1. The you're-a-screw-up email
If you need to tell someone they did a bad job, do it in person so you can gauge their reaction. For example, if you open with “Your negligence on this project cost the department $2 million,” and then the employee starts crying, you probably shouldn't continue in an extremely angry tone — at least not until he composes himself. Another reason not to reprimand via email: people will leave this type of email in their in-box for weeks and weeks and reread it every time they want to resurrect their hate for you. Talking in person helps everyone to move past the conflict without sour residue.

2. The I'm-a-screw-up email
Do not document your weaknesses. If you must apologize for botching a project, do it in person so there is no email record of your mistake for people to forward around the office. The more documentation you leave, the more your mistake festers in peoples' minds. And for God's sake, do not send a mass email to apologize. You will invariably announce your screw-up to people who would never have heard of it otherwise.

3. The bcc email
This email function is for people who are insecure, manipulative, and undermining of their co-workers. Even if you are this type of person, do not announce it to everyone by using the bcc function. Sure, only the people in the bcc line realize you're using it. But all those people will understand that you are not strong enough to let everyone know who's reading the email. If you feel compelled to use the bcc function, ask yourself why. Then get up off your chair, go deal with the problem face-to-face, and then go back to your desk to send a more honest email.

4. The joke email
Even if it's the funniest joke of all time (which I am sure it isn't) do not send it to your co-workers. Why make the announcement that you read spam during work hours? You should be working. You might think that telling a joke is a good way to establish rapport, but a spam joke is unoriginal, and impersonal and does nothing to make you closer to co-workers who matter. Besides, if someone thinks the joke is stupid, she will think you are stupid for sending it.

5. The Dear John email
I am amazed at how many people break up via email, from the office. I realize that some people are such dirt bags that they don't deserve a nice breakup. I also realize that if you handle a breakup from your office then the pressures of work can distract you from the drama of your personal life. But I am sure that there will be a web site — maybe a new section on Match.com — for people to publish breakup emails received. And your name will be mud in the dating world if you are known for sending breakup emails from work.

The bottom line is that sending an email is like getting dressed in the morning — both are ways to manage the way people perceive you. The only difference is that if you have a terrible outfit, you can take it off and never wear it again. A terrible email propagates in cyberspace and will seem, to the original sender, to last forever.

5 replies
  1. lori sweetland
    lori sweetland says:

    Some people may wish to keep their own email address private. Therefore, if I send out an email to everyone on my list (which I do not, ever) then everyone now has everyone else’s email address. Some people wish to keep their email accounts private and not full of spam, junk mail and jokes, and that is their right. To assume that it means there’s something dishonest going on is just closeminded and offensive, to say the least.

  2. d fox
    d fox says:

    I never heard about bcc until my boss showed it to me a couple months ago. Recently after following her advice and using it to blindly forward emails to her between myself and others I realized what I was doing… and that it was completely wrong. It’s manipulative and controlling. Not to mention sneaky. I will NEVER use this function again unless it’s used to protect my email from potential spam… not to hide from others that I am sharing emails they believed were private. I can see where the good intentions may lie in certain situations, but why not just inform the party you are corresponding to that you will be forwarding the info to another person? Unless you have something to hide… it should be the honest way to go. I mean… it’s illegal for another person to open my mail-even my partner can’t open my mail. It’s a federal offense. I think email should have some sort of protection as well. Be careful!

  3. Melissa 78
    Melissa 78 says:

    I personally think it is rude to use the bcc email with any type of interoffice correspondence. Why is there a need to be secretive about who is on the email? It appears very manipulative, and creates a feeling of distrust. If you’re sending a mass email to people outside your office and just want to protect their privacy,that’s one thing. But bcc among coworkers seems rude, sneaky and disrespectful.

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