I always cringe when I see certain comments in an e-mail, text, or any other form of writing that says something I know the “sender” is going to regret having written or sent.
“Offensive comments are like butter; they cannot be un-spread.”
Caution is the best advice, or as the robot in Lost in Space in the 1960s TV show would say, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger.” I have seen several careers get off track because of comments that were made or comments that were made several years ago re-surfacing and causing problems.
The easiest solution is to never to put yourself in that position and you can do so by avoiding writing something controversial or offensive. My e-mail responses are always short and to the point. If I need to expand on something, it is easier to pick up the phone and have a conversation, than try to convey my thoughts in an e-mail or text.
So where are the trouble areas in e-mails, texts, or other forms of written communications? Here are the five trouble areas experts have identified:
- Negative comments. Bad news seems to travel faster than good news. When a person makes a negative comment about an employee, a person, or a situation, you know the comments are going to be shared. A person may think it will not happen, but nine times out of ten, the negative e-mail gets shared. Negative comments should only be done in-person and shared with the offending person face-to-face.
- Suggestive jokes, comments, or thoughts. Regardless of whether or not a person thinks the jokes or comments are meant in fun and not to be taken seriously, somebody will take it seriously and be offended. The #MeToo movement reminds us that all comments are subject to interpretations, and it is easier not to make or share jokes, rather than have to worry about what another person may think is funny. Don’t forward suggestive jokes or comments. You may not be the originator of the joke, but you become complicit by forwarding it.
- Gossip. Every workplace has its gossip vine. Gossip is destructive and counterproductive to the success of a business or organization. There is a lot of time wasted on gossip, and it is unprofessional to become engaged in spreading it. Don’t even think about putting gossip into writing, because there are legal ramifications for businesses and plenty of evidence on how gossip can damage personal reputations. IP addresses are traceable and thinking people can write things anonymously is fake courage and foolish.
- Confidential information. Like gossip, sharing confidential information has legal ramifications and can be costly for a business or organization that allows it to occur. Sharing confidential information can also destroy an individual’s personal life and/or career.
- Personal information. How much you drank over the three-day holiday, the new job you are looking for, and what you are doing next weekend for entertainment are all examples of sharing personal information in texts or e-mails. These are big No-Nos. Remember, too much information shared takes the mystery out of who you are and what you do when you are not at work.
When it comes to avoiding problems in e-mails, texts, or writing, just remember less is better. A little discernment and “no quick” responses go a long way towards staying out of trouble.