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25 Acts of Email Cruelty

Don't be cruel in email--stop doing these 25 things.
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You arrive at work and the first message waiting at the top of your Gmail is rude, sarcastic, and demeaning. That's not exactly the intended use of the communication method.

Email is great for explaining a complex topic, documenting a subject, and communicating about upcoming plans. Using it to take your anger out on someone? That's just another way of being cruel.

These examples of being harsh by email won't help anyone stay productive and focused on their work, or enjoy being in the office:

1. Responding to an email with just a Web link without any explanation. I am guilty as charged. I recently realized it's a little gruff. It's better to at least give a quick annotation. (In some cases, it's obviously just a quick and helpful aid.)

2. Answering an email with one word and no other explanation. I'll contend it is sometimes the only way to cut people off, but you wouldn't do that in the grocery line, right? Right? One word replies sometimes work, sometimes they are just rude.

3. Using the word unfortunately. I have mentioned this one before. Unfortunately, people keep using it in emails and it still seems dismissive.

4. Swearing. I'm just not a fan of swearing in general--it's a bit lazy. And, you never know if someone will take your humor the wrong way. Or show the message to the boss.

5. Not answering at all. Somehow society in general decided "no reply" to an email is no answer. It's better to at least reply and give an explanation.

6. Pestering. The all-time record for someone asking me about their product is around six emails. It's okay to remind me. It's not okay to pummel.

7. Writing a lengthy email about why that person is an idiot. I understand people get angry and need to vent. My solution? Go ahead and write the long email, then delete it. Or just go talk to the person.

8. Boring people with too much detail. This is not a NASA rocket convention. By cleaning up your prose and summarizing things, you are making the recipient much happier in life.

9. Arguing over email. Arguments sometimes erupt over email, and it just causes people a lot of stress. Stick to the phone or, better yet, just let something slide once in a while.

10. Not calling. Sometimes, it's just cruel to email period. There are some topics, like trying to retain an employee or discussing future plans, that are best voice calls.

11. Blaming by email. It's an easy way to avoid confrontation, but a really terrible way of resolving anything. Blaming by email almost always puts some on the defense.

12. Being terse. Face it, we've all sent short and snappy emails. It's not always a bad thing. However, not explaining yourself fully usually creates a communication nightmare.

13. Criticizing grammar. Sure, your recipient has not mastered the difference between effect and affect. I get that. Calling out bad grammar just slows down the discussion.

14. Explaining at length why it is better to do a phone call. I've received these missives before. Isn't it better to just call and explain that? Or just arranging the call without hammering the point?

15. Making fun of someone for hitting Reply All by mistake. Sure, it's a little dumb. It becomes cruel when everyone starts making fun of the original sender.

16. Making sexual overtones. You'd be surprised how often people send suggestive emails, making a permanent record of the debauchery that's easy to bring up in a performance review.

17. Forwarding spam. Really? I suppose there might be a small minority of spam messages that are funny or weird, but please keep them to yourself.

18. Sending chain mail. These are not just annoying, they usually don't make any sense. Plus, no one will ever know that you broke the chain--not even Stevie Nicks.

19. Letting everyone knowyou're the boss. Another tactic that just looks bad by email (or in any context). It's better to develop trust, respect, and even admiration from employees by making good decisions.

20. Belittling. Sure, the recipient screwed up a project and doesn't seem to understand basic business practices. Using email to chastise them just makes you look mean.

21. Telling lies. Watch yourself on this one. If you lie by email, the recipient can pretty easily prove you wrong--and they will hang onto the message as proof.

22. Sending an animate GIF. Apart from clogging up the email pathways, not everyone is amused by a dancing kitten. Plus, not every email program can read them.

23. Firing someone. Well, this one is obvious but it has happened. If you have to terminate someone, always do it in person and follow well-established guidelines.

24. Dramatically altering a project. I'm convinced people use email to make a sweeping change because they don't want to deal with the backlash. It's just not the best way to make big changes.

25. Closing down a business entirely. Has it finally come to the bitter end? Hold an all-hands meeting or talk to employees one-on-one. Don't use email for it.

Last updated: Aug 6, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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