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10 Rules to Avoid Getting in Trouble with Email

Much has been written about email etiquette, but people still get it wrong everyday.  The biggest mistake people make with email is deciding when an email is appropriate and when it is not.  Because writing an email is a one way communication and it is impersonal, we tend be a lot tougher, bolder, and more forceful in it than we would be in other types of communication.  This can be incredibly dangerous and damaging to the relationships we have with the people on the other end of the email.

Here is a list of my rules of thumb for when to send an email and when to pick up the phone (or schedule a meeting).

  1. If you are simply providing information or updates for review, email woks great.
  2. If you are following up on a conversation with a summary of the conversation or requested information, email is good.
  3. If you have a quick question that simply requests information or clarification, email is okay.
  4. If there’s any chance the recipient might misinterpret what you mean by your email, don’t send it.
  5. If you wouldn’t say the same thing to the person’s face that you are about to email, don’t send it.
  6. If the topic of the email is something that will require discussion, don’t email.  (The only exception would be in situations where a meeting is already scheduled and you are sending the email to give the person a chance to prepare for the discussion).  
  7. If it is an emotionally charged issue, never email.
  8. If you want the conversation to be confidential, don’t email.  
  9. If you are providing negative feedback, don’t email.
  10. If you are providing recognition or kudos, email is okay but sometimes a phone call or in-person visit is better.
Email is a great tool that has become over-used and abused.  These are my general rules of thumb for keeping myself out of trouble with email.  I hope they will be helpful to you.  Let me know if I’ve missed anything or if you have any other rules of thumb that are helpful to you.
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Jason Lauritsen