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Politics aside, the emails which the President’s son recently published serve as a reminder that email is a very powerful tool – one that can be both beneficial and detrimental.  The President’s son has admitted that, in hindsight, he should have handled the situation differently.  He’s probably referring both to the underlying meeting at issue as well as his email exchanges in advance of the subject meeting.  And, with regard to the emails, he is probably lamenting the fact that they’re virtually indestructible.  They create an evidentiary trail that can be helpful or debilitating, depending on the circumstances.

Electronic communications (emails, text messages, instant messages) are ingrained in our society as a means of personal and business communication.  They aren’t going anywhere – literally.  So we must be diligent in our use of those media to communicate.

Educate your employees on the benefits, risks and proper use of electronic media to conduct business.  They will appreciate your effort to help them navigate through the issues which arise in our fast-paced business environment.  Here are a few tips to impart to your employees to help diminish the chance that someone on your team sends an email that makes headlines of the sort you don’t want:

  • Treat electronic communications as business letters – be professional, objective and truthful.  Avoid exaggeration and sarcasm – remember the sender is not present when the recipient reads the email.
  • If you’d be uncomfortable reading the email in the newspaper or having it spread through the Internet – don’t send it.  Make a phone call instead.
  • Think twice before clicking on “Reply All” – send only to those who need to receive the email.
  • Be cautious about sending trade secrets or other confidential information – you may end up waiving the confidentiality of such information or risk that it gets into the wrong hands
  • Be concise.  If it’s more than a few sentences, people aren’t likely to read it – make a phone call, if necessary.
  • Don’t make admissions of potential company mistakes in an email – discuss the issues internally and develop any necessary corrective action.
  • Before you hit the “send” button, check for grammatical errors, make sure your content and tone are appropriate, and double check that you are sending the communication only to your intended recipients.

Having some discipline and guidance about when and how to use various forms of electronic communication may help you to instill a culture of responsible use of these business tools.  And that may mitigate your exposure to embarrassing or harmful communications.