Much has been written on the best ways to utilize email, but very little exists out there that talks about all the ways that it can be misused. Email can be an effective tool, but like so many other tools, if used wrongly can bring about results best described as “unfortunate”. Here are some of the more glaring moments when you should probably refrain from firing up your outbox.
If the message is extremely important. Emails have a way of falling into the wrong hands on a fairly regular basis. It is not a secure form of communication and if the information you are relaying is something that you want kept private, you can almost rest assured that will, at some point, become public. Never send anything through email that you aren’t prepared for the rest of the world to see.
For the purposes of negotiation. While some would argue that email is ideal for back and forth of this nature, due to the ability to take time and digest the information given before composing an answer, the simple fact is that any type of negotiation works far better in person (or at least over the phone). This is especially true if you do not know the other person and have not had the opportunity to establish any sort of relationship or rapport.
Long form interviews. While some might appreciate the chance to write out carefully scripted answers to interview questions, live answers are almost always more preferable as they allow the interviewer to actually observe the other person, their body language, nuances in their speech. It also provides the means to ask follow up questions as you go, rather than having to send umpteen multiple follow up messages.
Email almost never works when having to deliver news that is bad news, a complaint, a criticism, or anything remotely resembling controversial. One thing that is almost universally agreed upon is that many times emails are misread or misinterpreted. Many times, highly charged material is better delivered in person, where you have the added benefit of facial expressions, intonation, and other forms of personal communication that allow you to truly deliver the message in context.
If you require an immediate response, don’t use email. Pick up the phone. While email is light years faster than snail mail, even this author will confess to having ancient emails in my box that are still awaiting response.
You don’t want a permanent record. Once you hit send, it’s out there, whatever it is, and it is out there forever and ever amen. And you never know where it might come back to haunt you. Again never send anything that you aren’t prepared for the world to see, because they very well might.
If you are physically close to the recipient, forget email. Just speak up. At my last full time job, I actually had a guy with the desk beside mine who would actually send emails to me when a whispered comment would have sufficed.
If your instructions are complicated, use more flexible methods of communication. I hate having to email back for clarification about as much as I hate receiving emails asking for clarification. I’m betting I’m not alone.
If the message is a long one. Emails are best suited for shorter messages. Once you get into communication that is longer than a paragraph or two, the chances of it being read thoroughly and disseminated properly begin to shrink.