Nuclear Email

bombThe immediacy provided by emails and messaging apps is wonderful, except when it isn’t. 

We are all tempted on occasion to send email that we will ultimately regret. These messages, sent in anger, frustration, or pain, seldom represent our best effort, and can have consequences ranging from momentary embarrassment to career-ending disgrace.

While not the most tech-savvy person I know, a former colleague possessed truckloads of insight into human misbehavior, much of it learned the hard way, I suspect. He advocated for a trigger guard on email – a simple-sounding remedy for email messages dispatched under regrettable circumstances. His e-guard would spell-check messages for words indicating anger, intemperance, and other maladies of the psyche and enforce an embargo for 60 seconds or more before the message would be sent. That would permit the storm to abate and a cooler, less passionate head to prevail.

Today, certain email programs offer an option to recall or retract emails, but even that doesn’t necessarily mean the recipient won’t still receive your nuclear missive. The best practice may be to save suspect messages to the Drafts folder for an hour or so for later review and revision under less stressful conditions.

The only thing worse than intentionally writing something you’ll regret in an email is unintentionally passing information not intended for other eyes. By nature, I’m a ‘big picture’ guy: I see details as extraneous brain-clutter unworthy of more than passing interest. I appreciate emails that include previous related messages. These create a historical record of the conversation, enabling me to scan for information when I need it.

Forwarding such a message, however, is fraught with danger: We’re likely not merely forwarding the immediate note, but its cousins as well. Correspondents who intend their message only for you may include comments like, “Brad’s dumb idea at today’s meeting aside…” only to see the reference crop up later as part of a message circulated to the team (including Brad).

The solution is to give messages a haircut before sending them off. Scan below the signature line and delete any previous conversation that’s tagging along for the ride. Like my colleague’s e-mail trigger guard, giving your emails a haircut will avoid the accidental launch of a nuclear message.   

Scott H. Lewis is a sales and customer service coach for Signature Europe.

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