cover envelope with ethics text on blue cloudThe conversations centered on Hillary Clinton’s email practices and the leaked DNC email messages have probably not escaped your notice. Regardless of political affiliation or viewpoint on the controversies, I think there’s one thing we might all agree on as business owners: It’s important to treat our email communications with care.

We can learn some valuable lessons from the email mistakes and oversights made by individuals in the public’s eye. And we should also think about how we might avoid other sorts of damaging email mishaps.

  • Never badmouth a colleague, vendor, competitor, or client in your email messages. Never EVER assume the only person reading your email will be the one you’ve directly sent it to. If a recipient forwards your email, you never know where it might land. And even if no one forwards it, your sentiments could travel by good old-fashioned word of mouth. That’s not fair to whomever you’re having issue with. A direct, constructive conversation with the person—not a snarky behind-the-back email— will always be the way to go.
  • Be ultra-wary of whom you send anything deemed confidential or proprietary via email. Has the person you’re sharing with agreed to treat the information as such? Is there an agreement in place that could land you in hot water for sharing certain pieces of information? And if you’re not sure whether or not information should be kept close to the vest, find out before you share it with someone else.
  • BEFORE you hit “send,” double-check to make sure you’ve included only the intended recipients in the “To,” “Cc,” and “Bc” fields. This will help you avoid sending confidential information to people you shouldn’t have disclosed it to. Also, if you ignored the advice in the first bullet point above and have vented frustration about someone, double-checking recipients will help you avoid accidentally sending your message to the person you’ve written about. And yes…I know of people to whom this has happened!
  • Avoid blind copying people on email messages. People typically Bc other people in emails when they secretly want to inform those people of what they’ve sent to a “To” recipient. But if a Bc’ed person “replies all,” the gig is up and it can destroy trust and create hard feelings with the direct recipient. Consider keeping others informed by Ccing them instead. That way it’s all out in the open. Or, if you really don’t want the “To” recipient to know you’ve shared your email with someone else, forward it instead. It’s still a bit sneaky, but less risky than a Bc. 
  • Read your email messages out loud to assess tone and clarity. Without the benefit of facial expressions and vocal inflections, email messages can oh so easily become misinterpreted. Always read them out loud to yourself before sending them. That will help you pick up on any hint of harsh attitude that might make recipients feel defensive or angry. It will also enable you to check how clearly you’re communicating. If your email is too long-winded, redundant, or confusing, simplify it so it states what you want to share without making recipients work too hard to understand it.

Whether you’re just starting a business or running an existing one, email is among the most effective, tried-and-true communications tools you’ll have at your disposal. But as these recent political email scandals have demonstrated, none of us should take it for granted. Give your email messages the attention and respect they deserve. Consider the tips I’ve shared, so you don’t fall prey to careless blunders that might hurt your business reputation.