Everyone makes mistakes – I don’t care who you are in life, you’ve made a mistake or two along the way, it virtually unavoidable. In fact, making mistakes is often the hall mark of successful individuals – you learn more from making mistakes than from succeeding the first time out. The real trick is not only to learn from them, but also to avoid making them in future. Making the same mistake multiple times shows a lack of self-understanding, wondering why things go wrong as a result is the definition of insanity!
One mistake I see many younger business associates make is to put something in writing and deliver it to a recipient before reading it and considering the impact on the recipient later. In the old days, if you had an unfortunate experience or got caught in some less than optimal circumstance, you could fire off a letter to the one who initiated this slight, real or imagined. This involved sitting down, composing the thought. Then you had to find a piece of paper, an envelope, a stamp, and physically write the vehement tract in longhand, place it an envelope, seal it, stamp it, and post it. All this took time – time to consider, reconsider, and with that many steps, many chances to halt the process, and reduce or avoid the impending damage altogether. It took effort to vent on paper, and usually only the intended recipient got to see the result.
Today, with the advent of e-mail, the opportunity for electronic lunacy looms large. Many people spend entire days tucked safely behind a computer terminal, reading, texting, tweeting, e-mailing, posting on social media sites – communicating to be sure, but communicating what? It’s now much easier to fire off a venomous missive at the drop of a hat, with no real editor involved, either internal or external. A few keystrokes, a few clicks of the mouse, and off it goes, wounding and excoriating all in it’s path. And, in true millennial fashion, once its out there, it stays there. It resides on at least two server drives, yours and theirs, as well as all the one’s in between, and can easily be forwarded, used as defacto evidence, either for the authorities or in an internal investigation. And, it carries with it an IP address that leads right back to you – no such thing as an anonymous e-mail hate letter.
Even routine business correspondence sent to the wrong place or copied to the wrong address can cause trouble. A quick note to a co-worker about what a jerk the boss was in today’s meeting (a bad idea to begin with, never commit such things in writing, it will always be read by the wrong person eventually)can easily end up in the wrong hands with a simple click that’s a bit quick, thanks to automatic address lists, group e-mail, and a host of other technological corner-cutting to make our electronic lives even quicker and easier.
To avoid all of this, there are three simple rules:
- Read all e-mail at least twice before sending, starting with the subject line, word by word, slowly and carefully.
- If you wouldn’t say something to a person’s face, don’t write it in an e-mail, tweet, Facebook post or IM.
- Check all e-mail addresses carefully, and verify before hitting “send”
Take a moment, think about what you’re writing, think about the impact it can have on other’s, and ask yourself what you would do and how you would feel if you received this message in your in-box. If there’s any way your message could be taken the wrong way, misconstrued, misinterpreted or taken the wrong way, edit, edit, edit. It’s free, it’s fast, and can save you hours of grief and tons of trouble later. 30 seconds of review now can save hours of explanation and hard feelings later, not a great bargain if you ignore it.
Read before you hit send – the office life you save could be your own . . .!
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