Monday 20 November 2017

Oh God, I did not just send that email . . . did I?

Joe O'Shea

We've all heard horror stories of career-ending emails -- but some basic netiquette can keep you safe, writes Joe O'Shea.

The best (or worst) can go viral within hours, turning the unwary and unfortunate into instant web-celebrities, leading to seriously red faces or even career-ending scandal.

Almost everybody has done it at one time or another, clicking "send" before we engage our brains or even read over a hastily written and dispatched email.

And in the age of instant communication, where a careless, insulting, confidential or just plain dumb email can go around the world in an instant, it makes sense to pay attention to your web etiquette.

A survey carried out in the UK last year found that one in 20 participants had either been fired or reprimanded at work for sending inappropriate messages.

It's estimated that 42 email mistakes are made every minute in UK homes and offices.

And one of the most common mistakes of all is clicking on "reply all" when you meant to only hit "reply" -- turning what should have been a relatively private, one-to-one message into a much wider interaction, often including those who you wanted to complain about or bad-mouth in the first place.

Almost a third of the 2,000 people surveyed admitted to inadvertently clicking on "reply all" when they meant to hit "reply".

And 13pc said they had accidentally sent an email insulting a client or colleague -- to the person they were insulting.

Some high-profile Irish businesses have had their own rogue email problems. In 2010, the Dublin branch of international accountancy firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers suspended a number of male employees after an email which "rated" 13 new female employees based on their looks. The original circular was sent to around 17 male employees but ended up going further after it was forwarded on to recipients in other companies.

The accountancy firm, which employed over 2,000 people in Ireland at the time, launched an immediate investigation while the story turned into a cautionary tale for office staff and businesses at home and abroad.

In another case in the UK, a personnel manager at a large company who, when asked his reason for recommending a colleague for a raise, wrote; "She was a grrrrrreat shag as well!", lost both his job and a later claim for unfair dismissal.

And a BBC sports editor who, when asked about two high-profile hirees, mailed a colleague to say: "I think they're both crap", found his own career options narrowing after he hit "reply all" in error.

Irish marketing expert Denise Fay tackles the problems of rogue emails and bad habits in her new book 31 Days To Write Better Copy, a guide to writing for your business and communicating with clients, colleagues and customers.

As well as looking at everything from good grammar and punctuation to writing sales scripts and presentations, Denise has come up with her own rules on business email or "netiquette".

"There is a lot of emphasis on social media now but email is still the number one way of communicating in our daily lives," says Denise.

"It is so convenient . . . it's instant, it's informal, you almost do it without thinking half the time and that is part of the problem".

Denise has identified the golden rules of business email and they are:

Above All Else -- Be Professional

"You or I wouldn't go to work in creased or dirty jeans, we wouldn't mumble a hello to the boss or to clients, so why do the equivalent of that when you are communicating by email?" asks Denise.

"People need to understand that in a business relationship, especially when you are introducing yourself to a person for the first time and beginning the relationship, you need to be formal, you need to be professional.

"Start your email with "Dear..." not "Hi!", always err on the side of caution until you are sure you know the person well enough to be less formal."

Humour Can Be Dangerous

"Humour is a tricky one. You have got to remember that you are not there in the room with them and what might sound funny to you can come across as awkward, silly or even insulting," says Denise.

Be Crystal Clear

"In simple terms, avoid long, complicated paragraphs, don't overload you emails with information or complexity. Do, by all means, take as long as you need to get your message across but try and make it as clear as possible."

Be Approachable

"It helps to think in terms of being in a social or business setting with somebody. Think about how you would approach them or interact with them if they were there in the room. If it's somebody you want to develop a relationship with, certainly, let them know you are approachable, it's as simple as saying "I look forward to talking to you" or letting them know they can get back to you at any time if they need more information".

Never Mail in Haste -- Especially when Angry

Denise believes it is vitally important that you read back over every email at least once, checking for spelling and grammar and also that you have said what you wanted to say in the clearest way.

"Do make sure that you proof read everything. You could surprise yourself with how many mistakes you will catch yourself out on. And do not email in haste, especially if it is a very important email. Never mail when you are frustrated or angry, once it's gone it is impossible to get back."

Denise also believes that writing once, taking a break from the email and coming back to it, can greatly improve your message.

"A pint of Guinness is best left to settle and then topped up. It can be the same with emails. If it's important, break your train of thought for a while, have a cup of tea and then come back to it.

"You will be surprised how a quick second or third read will make you think of changes or additions that will greatly improve your message".

In overall terms, Denise says common sense goes a long way to helping us to avoid obvious mistakes.

And if she had just one golden rule -- it would be to always, always check that you are not about to mistakenly hit "reply all".

Irish Independent

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