A single email can destroy a career or a company.
This was proven once again when popular politician New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got into trouble this month. An email from one of his chief staff members revealed that lane closures were ordered on the George Washington bridge, resulting in massive gridlock in the town leading to the bridge, Fort Lee, New Jersey. These lane closures were apparently in retaliation for the mayor of Fort Lee not endorsing Christie during his most recent political campaign.
For more than 30 years, the good news about email is that it's a very quick, direct and efficient form of communication. The bad news is that it's a permanent record, saved forever, even if it's deleted off an individual account. As a result, one email—even just one sentence in an email—can be used against you, and take you down.
All small-business owners need to be fully aware of how they use this communication tool, and many owners need to stop using it so freely, before its misuse damages their companies and reputations.
According to Mike Song, CEO of Get Control, there are three things to remember when emailing:
1. Leave Out The Emotion
Words can be dangerous, especially those that are written in the heat of the moment. Song says an angry email could be the last one you ever write before someone severs that relationship.
Protect yourself: Think of delaying any email that's charged with negative emotion. MS Outlook has a feature where sending an email can be delayed by a preset number of minutes. Gmail has a similar function. This allows a cooling off period and ensures the author has no second thoughts about what he or she wrote before sending it.
2. Handle Gray Areas In Person
Song reminds business owners to avoid “conjecture, musing or innuendo. Innocent emails that delve into gray areas are the next best thing to real evidence in email court cases.” Also, try to leave out emoticons, because they're easily misinterpreted.
Protect yourself: When in doubt, meet in person. Any types of gray issues are best communicated in person in private meetings where people are less likely to be misunderstood.
3. Keep Your Personal Junk Out Of It
Personal junk, anything that's not 100 percent business oriented, needs to be left out of your written communications. Song includes in this area activities like venting, sexting or writing about any pet peeves you may have about your colleagues.
Protect yourself: It's simple. Just stop doing these things; they have no place in business and can really hurt your reputation. We've seen it happen on many occasions and will likely continue to see it, as people think what's private can so easily be made public.
There are also new “disappearing communication” tools similar to the popular Snapchat. Apps like Confide allow companies to send emails and texts that disappear after they're read. These products include point-to-point encryption where even Confide doesn’t have a retrievable copy. Co-founder Howard Lerman (also CEO of Yext) says this means that both the company and users can respond to any legal demands by confidently stating that the message has simply disappeared.
If there's a lesson learned with this latest email scandal, it's the same lesson learned from all the texting and email scandals that have come before it and will come after it: We all—from the top down—need to think twice about what we've written before hitting Send.
What does your company do to ensure that emailing and texts are used appropriately?
For more tips on how to connect with customers through great emails, access this exclusive video course, Rethink Your Emails to Customers.
Read more email etiquette tips.
Photo: Getty Images