Do You Send Career Limiting Emails?

Communication Kindness Respect


Key Point: Email has been around for twenty plus years now, but it’s misuse still a real issue at most workplaces. I’m stunned that people continue to self-sabotage their careers by sending emails that have no value and can even be harmful. Unless someone is recording our voice conversations, we can usually say regrettable things with the immediate ability to clarify and/or amend our remarks. That is NOT the case with emails (or texts). Our ability to retract or modify is severely limited. In fact, an email sender’s comments live in perpetuity to be forwarded, replied to and stored. Do you send out emails that are career limiting? Read below for a checklist and guide to never make that mistake again.

Over my years as a CEO and executive, I have been forwarded the most amazing, appallingly negative and career impacting emails. They can often contain comments that undermine relationships and job tenure. Here are some of the major email blunders and categories I’ve observed. I have literally seen verbatim or facsimiles of the following doozy digital messages numerous times.

1. The personal attack email: “I can’t believe what a #*@$*$# jerk you are. You are always criticizing my team’s work. Next time you want something from us… Forget it.”

2. The no self-accountability/blame email: “Hey… Don’t blame me. Marketing sends out promotions we can’t possibly deliver on. They live in the biggest stovepipes in the company. Point your finger in another direction. You should be grateful we try to support those knuckleheads.”

3. The “Sludge” email: “He is never around… And did you notice that he got his haircut in the morning during work hours?”

4. The scarcity email: “She gets the best leads because she knows (and likely more) the VP of Sales. I don’t care that she is the best revenue and margin generating sales person. If I was given the best territory and leads, I would be too.”

5. The insubordination emaiI: “I wish the hell you (the boss) would stop meddling in my business. Have you read the latest management theory about command and control? Thats you… Like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld. If you continue, I’m going to escalate this issue.”

6. The patronizing email: “Hey… I’m your top gun teammate and here to help. It takes a while to get the real groove around here but if you stick around my world, I can help. Let’s go for a drink and I will let you in on who and what to avoid.”

7. The harassment email: “Hi… I heard you’re a big fan of The New Normal TV show. I wish these shows about gays would stay on HBO where they belong… Anyway, I will send you the accounts payable report you’re looking for.”

Believe it or not, I could go on and give you many more examples. These types of emails (and worse) are exchanged in organizations every day. How would you react if you were forwarded an email like this from someone up for a promotion? Would it influence your decision? It does mine. These negative emails become living, legacy references that help define what the author believes, thinks and does. And trust me, these emails circulate and will eventually get to someone in a position to question the underlying judgment and values of the sender. An email sender’s intention may have little correlation to how an email actually reads. But once in black and white, it is very difficult to restate intent and do damage control.

Character Move:

  1. Be like a master carpenter of email. Instead of measuring twice and cutting once, read twice before pressing send. Evaluate the email by asking… “What value does this email really provide?” “Who does it really serve?” “Am I proud to send it?” “Would I feel ok if my mother read it?”
  2. If your gut is twitching and you have doubts about pressing send, take it as a warning sign… Read it three more times and ask for an opinion from a trusted source before sending. I bet that you will amend the content significantly. Often you will thankfully press delete before sending it at all.
  3. If there is lots of negative emotion attached, spend a moment to ask when and how it’s the best way to constructively respond. It’s likely that a different time and medium is more effective. Often a phone conversation the following morning brings better results. Escalating an email argument is like watching a ball of string unravel. It gets tangled and becomes an ugly mess to straighten up. And usually everyone on the CC list shakes his or her head in mocking disgust.
  4. Although ridiculously obvious, emails late at night and/or attached to mood modifying substances (like buckets of red wine) can rapidly become a career suicide mission. Like many things, do not drink and ____. This includes sending emails.
  5. Remember that some of the best emails or texts are the ones you never send. If you make a mistake and DO regrettably send, apologize by email immediately, followed by a personal contact to do the same. Hopefully the receiver will permanently delete it.

Emails in (not out) of The Triangle,