Careers

Before you send that email, ask yourself this

Donald Trump Jr.
Bloomberg | Getty Images
Donald Trump Jr.

Donald Trump Jr. has found himself in exceptionally hot water after an email response he fired off over a year ago became public today.

The message itself — "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer" — likely was not something he wanted to be made public, and may prove to carry serious consequences.

For employees who spend hours each day shooting missives across email, text and messaging apps, it's an essential reminder of the cardinal rule of digital communication: Everything is public.

Today, you can't expect that your personal communication will remain private. Emails can easily be saved and forwarded to people with whom you never intended to communicate, and whether employees realize it or not, it's common for companies to archive conversations on messaging services like Slack.

Wide-spread hacks like those aimed at Sony and Target demonstrate just how vulnerable individuals everywhere are to having their information and communications shared with the world.

So before you send anything online, ask yourself, "Will I be OK if this ends up on the front page of the New York Times?"

If the answer is yes, hit send. If not, try again.

Here are three other questions you should ask yourself before you send your words off into the digital ether (and who knows where else):

Am I being overly emotional? 

When we are upset or frustrated, it can be tempting to send an angry email. But lashing out at others in the heat of the moment can come back to haunt you.

"Do not email when you're angry, hungry or tired," says Stefanie Ziev, executive coach. "Check in with your mental state and mindset before you press 'send.'"

Career coach and leadership expert, Kathy Caprino, agrees. She says, "Never react harshly in the moment. Don't send an angry email as a knee-jerk reaction. You'll regret it."

Instead of sending an email while you are riled up, take a few minutes to collect your thoughts so that you can make the best decision possible. Avoiding mistakes made while you are emotional can help you dodge a career fiasco.

Will this help my career? 

While some office cultures may allow or even encourage the sharing of funny jokes, cute animal pictures or quirky GIFs, in many settings these things can make you seem unprofessional.

If something does not directly help you communicate your point, leave it out. The best way to make sure your coworkers take you seriously is to communicate seriously. And over email or other digital mediums, jokes can easily be misunderstood and misinterpreted.

"There are certain types of messages that do not translate well in email," says Rachel Beohm coach and trainer at FORTE, a non-verbal communication coaching firm.

"Sarcasm can be misunderstood even in person," she adds, "yet over email, without the use of eye contact and voice tone, it is even more likely to be lost."

Is this the right thing to do? 

Whether you are about to gossip about your colleagues, criticize your boss or potentially sandbag a political opponent, asking yourself, "Is this the right thing to do?" can help you make a prudent and ethical decision.

For example, Joan Kuhl, president of Why Millennials Matter and career coach Maggie Mistal say that gossip should never be exchanged over email.

"Negative remarks about the company, colleagues, bosses or the business in general have no place in work emails," says Kuhl.

Mistal adds, "Never criticize or call out another person in email, especially when it's a group email."

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