title:Think Before You Type
author:Rachelle Disbennett-Lee, PhD
I have preached for years about putting anything in writing you don’t want everyone to see. The days of chiseling out a message in stone are gone, but the permanency of putting words in writing lives on. When you put it in writing, it is there for the world to see even if you only intended to send that e-mail about your stupid boss to your best friend who works down the hall. E-mail is the worst because, once you send it, you have no control over where it goes and who else sees it. In addition it can be stored electronically forever. The best policy is, unless you want your words to show up in the morning newspaper or the company bulletin, don’t put it in writing. Think before you type.
I received an e-mail from a student furious about a grade she had received. She commenced to tell me what a lousy professor I was and that I had no idea what I was doing. The clincher was when she threatened me by saying that if the e-mail she sent me affected her grades she would have my job. Because of the tone and the threat in the e-mail, I did what I thought would be better than trying to reason with this student. I forwarded the e-mail to the Dean and her academic advisor with comments from me. The student was shocked, and I am guessing a little embarrassed, that I forwarded her e-mail to others. After all she sent it just to me. Maybe so, but even though I am a stupid professor I do know how to use the forward key; and so do most people. If you type it and send it, you own it; it’s yours, and no taking it back.
E-mail can be forwarded to anyone, anywhere and can be saved forever only to surface when you have forgotten about it. If you are angry at the time you type an e-mail, the risk is even greater you are going to write things you will later regret. Type your e-mail and then step away from the computer. Give yourself time to cool off. Many states in the United States have a “cooling off” period when someone wishes to purchase a handgun. In Massachusetts the wait to receive a gun, after purchase, is 40 days. I don’t think you need to wait forty days to send your e-mail, but a cooling off period of three or four days is not a bad idea. You may not be able to kill anyone with an e-mail, but you can assassinate your career and kill your chances of promotion. And friendships die under the machine gun words of an angry e-mail.
Before you send any e-mail, stop and think about how you would feel reading your words in the morning newspaper or your company’s bulletin. Make sure your words are ones you want repeated. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “You can put the words back in your mouth.” When you type it and send it, you can’t erase it. You have created a document that can take on a life of its own. Then there is the fact that most companies record and store e-mails for years, e-mails are considered company property, and e-mail can be used in a court of law as evidence.
Give yourself a cooling off period before you send anything that was typed in anger. If you are not sure about something you have written, give yourself 2 to 3 days to cool off before sending the e-mail. If you still are not sure, have a trusted friend read the e-mail for you. Often it can help to have another opinion. Best of all, just think before you type. Ask yourself how you would respond if you received the e-mail you are about to send.