Ask any ten people if they know of someone who has been terminated or an organization that has been hauled into court over an email, and at least one can cite person and case. The story usually has an unhappy ending.

Here are the no-no’s:

Negative Comments About Upper Management
Even if “deleted,” these emails can be retrieved. Often such remarks accidentally get passed on. After four replies on an ongoing saga, someone forgets your sarcastic line buried at the bottom and forwards the email to another colleague to answer a different question.

Criticism Regarding Peer or Staff Performance
Written comments cause employees to brood. They seem more official than spoken words.

Bonuses or Salary Issues
If positive plans fail to materialize, the writing seems like “proof” that they are deserved.

Racial or Gender Slurs
Surely not in this decade.

Product or Service Liabilities
Opponents can subpoena your emails as evidence that you were aware of problems and ignored warnings.

Competitor Untruths
See you in court.

Gossip About Colleagues
Even the most innocent “news” can strike people the wrong way If they want it told, they’ll tell it.

Sloppy Writing
Clear writing reflects clear thinking. The opposite is also true. Your image may depend on daily informal email more than on formal documents.

Humor—Particularly Sarcasm and Tongue-in-Cheek
What comes across well with proper inflection, a smile, a goofy expression, and a slap on the back frequently falls flat on the screen.

Anything About Your Personal Life You’d Be Embarrassed to Have Printed on the Front Page of Your Newspaper
Your love life, your weekend adventures, your political views. Nada. Enough said.

So what’s left? Work. Ho-hum. And I think that’s the general idea.

Author's Bio: 

Dianna Booher works with organizations to increase their productivity and effectiveness through better oral, written, interpersonal, and organizational communication. She is a keynote speaker and prolific author of more than 40 books, including her latest, The Voice of Authority: 10 Communication Strategies Every Leader Needs to Know and Communicate with Confidence. Successful Meetings magazine has named her to its list of “21 Top Speakers for the 21st Century.” Dianna’s communication training firm, Booher Consultants, Inc., is based in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex and serves many Fortune 500 clients. 800.342.6621