Email is Great, Unless You Are Stupid

The Danger of Treating Email Too Casually

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

It has been both fascinating and numbing to witness the recent arrests of over 200 executives associated with the “sub-prime” mortgage scandals. What is more amazing is that the federal government is accusing some of the hedge fund managers of failing to publicly disclose in a timely manner that they were very concerned about their mortgage investments.

Apparently in internal emails they were not so reticent.

While this is an extreme case about why executives — and for that matter, all business people — need to be careful about email content, there seems to be a never ending series of people who have been prosecuted, fired or reprimanded for treating email as if it were anonymous bathroom graffiti. Eliot Spitzer brought more CEOs and senior management people to their knees though indiscreet emails than through depositions. And it’s a guarantee federal prosecutors are now combing through his emails.

For some unknown reason, people treat email too casually. They write things they would never say in a meeting and often feel compelled to share their innermost thoughts. Criticizing a colleague, making personal remarks, revealing information that is premature, etc. And somehow, they think if they hit delete — it disappears.

It never, ever disappears.

First you have the recipients. You have no idea what they will do with it. Send it on. File it. Print it out for hard copy files.

Second, there is something called a hard drive. Authorities seize hard drives faster than they place handcuffs on peoples’ wrists.

Third, somewhere, someplace, your indiscretion is alive and well in Cyberspace, your blackberry or wherever.

That is not to say you should be worried about criminal prosecution, but never write anything you would not want on your boss’s desk, your competitors’ computers or read by your mother.

It is a short way to end a successful career.


One Response to “Email is Great, Unless You Are Stupid”

Peter Kihn Says:

I know this from experience. Years ago at a company I’m no longer with a co worker sends an dept email saying “after 3 months in this sweatshop - I’m taking some days vacation”.

I replied to the same email back: “looks like you have been on vacation along with his sales numbers and percent to goal for the last month.”

I managed to keep my position one year after -
barely. I learned my lesson.

Keep writing Dave

Peter Kihn


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