But when even high-ranking public officials are ensnared in an email controversy, its clear the lessons havent completely sunk in for everybody yet.
While you know not to put personal matters in an email to a business partner or business talk into personal emails, there are more subtle ways to be tripped up.
With that in mind, here are six tips to think about before hitting Send.
1. What are you really saying?
Done thanks! might seem like a harmless phrase, but it was enough to drag one company into court. When one party emailed these two words in response to a contract proposal, the recipient assumed they had an official contract. When the deal later fell through, he sued for breach of contract. Make sure your written words are crystal clear. If you want to be even safer, include a line in your email signature stating nothing in the above document should be interpreted as an official agreement. That still belongs on old fashioned paper and ink.
2. Keep a small circle
Over-copying putting more recipients on an email than is necessary isnt just annoying when the reply-all messages start flying in. Its also dangerous from a business perspective. If a recipient thinks everyone on the list is able to help with an issue, they might start emailing them individually with questions or problems. The result: Unofficial one-on-one conversations youre not aware of, let alone able to monitor.
3. BCC is better than CC
If you need to fill another person in on your conversation, use the blind carbon copy feature. The mysterious appearance of a third email address is likely to send up red flags to other business people who will wonder why what theyre saying is suddenly being watched.
4. Read twice, reply once
Email always seems to come when youre busiest. Most pros get the urge to reply right away so they can get back to what they were doing. But it pays to read the message again: Are you really sure you understand what they were looking for? Are you answering the right question?
The extra ten seconds you take before replying can save you from an awkward follow-up email later.
5. Yup Its still forever
As stated above, anything you send over email lasts forever. There are no second chances or mea culpas for that message you sent by mistake.
Take your time writing an email. Choose each word carefully and make sure it can only be interpreted the way you intended it to. Edit out any jokes or comments that have the potential to be misinterpreted or taken the wrong way.
The best rule of thumb
If you wouldnt want to read what you said on the front page of The New York Times, dont say it in an email.
About the Author
David King is editor of The Information Technology Advisor newsletter, published by Progressive Business Publications, where he covers technologys impact on business. Connect with Progressive Business on LinkedIn or view employee reviews on Glassdoor.