Write Every E-Mail As If It Will Be Read in a Court of Law

It is always surprising the creative license that some people take when writing their business E-mails. Strong opinions, editorializing and emotion emanate from many keyboards. Project Managers find themselves in the middle of these emotional situations at times. However, a PM needs to stay away from these no-win digital discussions and keep their team out of the fray as well.

One good rule of thumb is to write each E-mail as if it will be read in a court of law.

Why? Because it just might. In these uncomfortable times when the bottom falls out of a business relationship and companies end up in court…the written word is typically given more credence than people’s memories. That is why it is critical to review, re-read, edit and review again any correspondence that leaves your desktop…and help your project team do the same.

Below are five suggestions/reminders that can keep E-mail professional, objective and able to be read in a court of law without indicting the writer.

1)      DO NOT use sarcasm in E-mail. It never translates well.

2)      DO NOT fill your E-mail with personal opinions or emotions. Keep it to the business at hand and deal with it professionally.

3)      DO keep extremes out of your E-mail. Terms like “you always” or “they never” are rarely true and only fuel the fire.

4)      DO let some time pass before you send an E-mail after a high-stress situation. The difference between sending an E-mail the very first thing the next morning rather than last thing the day before is really only minutes. But, it could save hours, days, and weeks of regretful complications and frustration.

5)      DO carefully review the TO: list prior to sending sensitive E-mails. There are too many people named “Michael” or “Michelle” and a host of other common names that, via Auto Fill, could receive an interesting E-mail that was not meant for them.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of how things are worded to prevent issues that may occur from E-mails that are forwarded. “I told them a thousand times before, but you know how they are…” can be rewritten as “They had been informed a number of times previously but decided to not act upon the information.” Same message, big difference.

I’d love to hear your suggestions on how you and your teams have dealt with emotional E-mail threads, kept yourself out of the fray, or perhaps some accounts of “e-mails gone bad” that prove why it is so important to be professional about what is sent digitally.


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