Think Before You Send

Have you ever wanted to take back an e-mail message? I have. Many times. E-mail can be a remarkably difficult medium to manage. E-mail can cause an unintended result. E-mail can cause major problems. I recently read Send, a book written by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. The premise of the book is that bad things can happen on email. Misunderstandings are common. And two rules are critical: think before you send and send e-mail you would like to receive.


Having made most of the mistakes one could possibly make with e-mail, I can share what I have learned about e-mail.

Be brief

A long e-mail message generally does not work. If an idea or an issue requires dozens of sentences in an email then I am using the wrong tool to communicate the idea or issue. The point should be put forward in a concise and professional manner. If not, then a conversation or a meeting is required. Some issues simply cannot be resolved through e-mail. And once a chain of lengthy e-mails begins, things can get really ugly.

Be kind

I have never once been proud of sending a flame mail. I have never once had a good outcome from sending a flame mail. And I certainly hate receiving flame mails. I always double-check an e-mail before I send it to make sure that there is no casual language that could be misinterpreted. When the e-mail relates to a sensitive issue, I will often triple-check before sending. And, if I am angry when composing an e-mail, I discard the message and I leave the response until I have cooled down.

Be encouraging

Sending someone a word of encouragement or a word of thanks always seems to work well.

Be responsive

Today, for better or worse, people expect a quick response with e-mail. And so I approach e-mail to that end. I usually schedule two times during the business day to clear the inbox. I use the inbox zero approach to cut things down to size as quickly as possible and I will make a point of not letting pending replies hang on for several days.

Be sensitive

There were times when I would copy someone’s boss in a reply. This was nothing more than a form of rebuke and frankly it was childish. I should have known better. And through some bad experiences in the past, I have learned to be far more sensitive with e-mail. I always try to think about how I would react if I received the same e-mail that I was planning to send. Everyone faces challenges in their lives and in their careers. An e-mail that is too candid, too blunt or too casual can be harmful.

Be diligent

I always re-read an e-mail before I send it. I check for spelling mistakes. I check for message clarity. I check for tone of message.

Be careful

Only send e-mails that need to be sent. There are many times when e-mail is not the best method of communication. It is not necessary to have the last word in an e-mail. Watch for comments that could boomerang. Always be aware that your e-mail can be instantly forwarded, without your knowledge, to other people. Some e-mails should never, ever be sent. You will know them when you write them. And that is the time to really think before you send.

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