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Workplace Email Etiquette - 5 Things Not to Discuss in the Office

Aug 18, 2007
Many office etiquette trainers strongly urge that if you feel the need to include a "headline" or warning about content not being suitable for work or office in an email, then it would probably be best to use common sense and not put said content or unsuitable phrases in the email to begin with.

This simple guideline is sometimes enough to keep internal business communications focused on the task at hand. But often, this basic instruction is not enough to make email between colleagues as efficient and suitable to the work environment as should be required. In those cases, office workers, home-based workers, managers and administrators alike need more specific instructions about what email subjects are appropriate for business correspondence and which are not.

The following five email etiquette guidelines are a great starting place for what not to discuss when writing business email correspondence:

1. Angry Emails - If there are problems serious enough within the work system to cause real anger, the issues should be dealt with face-to-face in a way outlined by company policy. As an example of what not to discuss in work email, one counselor/trainer urges workers and staff members not to gossip or complain about a fellow worker's lack of production, way of doing a job or even something unconnected to the business, such as personal habits. This type of message has a way of hurting the sender as much as anyone involved.

2. Disciplinary Matters - Some of the most damaging content in email concerns disciplinary action, whether that action involves the email sender or another person in the organization. Stating one's opinion about disciplinary action taken against another worker may become part of future discussions and ultimately hurt more than feelings. Managers and supervisors may consciously use such "evidence" in future personnel matters.

3. Illegal Subjects or Discussions - Discussions about activities that are illegal in nature should never be part of business email messages. This can include threats against an individual, dealings in unlawful objects or drugs, racist comments or inflammatory speech. This should be common sense to most email users but surprisingly is not. If the subject is not something you would feel comfortable discussing with your direct superior, or your mother for that matter, it probably shouldn't be discussed at all.

4. Sexual Relationship Issues - Even as "harmless" gossip, communications involving these issues should not be part of email messages. These items can offend recipients of the email as well as anyone that may inadvertently read the message. Legal culpability is also a concern in this area due to the rise of detailed policies against sexual harassment within the workplace.

5. Personal Information - Rather than being a specific "thing" not to discuss, many of those who counsel and train in the field of business communications strongly urge that all business email messages should be free of personal information. Some studies indicate that 80 percent of all email could be considered spam. In a similar way, much of the work email sent each day, with content about where to eat, what show to see, etc. is basically unnecessary.

Email recipients will always embrace communications that are focused, concise, and to the point. If, at any time, it seems that the direction of an email message leads itself towards any of the five subjects discussed above, it would be best to end the session, delete the message and start over. (Or, better yet, not send it at all.) To quote a variation on an old proverb, "speech may be fleeting, but email is forever." Make sure your words don't leave the wrong indelible impression. The winner may just be your career.
About the Author
Casey Markee is a consultant with worldwide email auditing software security provider GWAVA. Visit them online for information on their new Reveal email auditing software and see why GWAVA is the #1 software provider to the Novell GroupWise community of users.
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