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Could What You’re Writing in E-mails Be Putting You at Risk?

December 9, 2008
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10 Things You Should Never Write in an E-Mail or Instant Message
CIO, December 1, 2008

Come on, admit it. We’ve all written something at one time or another that would shame us if it were ever to get in the wrong hands. Whether it was an e-mail written in the heat of a moment, or an offensive joke casually sent over IM. We’ve all likely sent something that we probably shouldn’t have. Even when we’ve planned ahead and used “protective” statements in an effort to avoid backfires, they’ve usually ended up having the reverse effect. Take the phrases below, for example. Although they appear to work in your favor, they’ll actually cause more harm than good.

1.    “I could get into trouble for telling you this, but…”
2.    “Delete this e-mail immediately.”
3.    “I really shouldn’t put this in writing.”
4.    “Don’t tell So-and-So.” Or, “Don’t send this to So-and-So.”
5.    “She/He/They will never find out.”
6.    “We’re going to do this differently than normal.”
7.    “I don’t think I am supposed to know this, but…”
8.    “I don’t want to discuss this in e-mail. Please give me a call.”
9.    “Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.”
10.    “Is this actually legal?”

Although these statements appear to be ones that could help cover your tracks, they’ll actually only draw more attention to the topic you’re trying to keep under wraps.

“Everybody uses e-mail in ways that are sloppy because it’s so easy and convenient,” said Elizabeth Charnock, CEO of Cataphora. “But it can cause trouble. Writing ‘Delete this e-mail immediately’ is a marker for some content that by your own definition shouldn’t be there.”

The point of the story? Imagine what you’re writing is put in the hands of an unintended recipient. What would the consequences be? If you’re prepared to face them, then you’re probably ready to press “send”. If not, then you may want to rephrase your communication. Or, try the old fashioned route and pick up a phone or schedule an in-person conversation. Better to be safe than sorry.

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