Being nice to people isn't just a good idea because that's what mom would want. It's about burnishing your image--and in an age when technology is everywhere, that means you've got to keep that forked tongue securely hidden, always.
Surely you already know this, but after Kelly Blazek's recent flame out over LinkedIn, a refresher course may be in order.
First, a bit about Blazek. She runs a job bank in Cleveland. Or rather she apparently used to because she's pretty much shut down her entire public life. Her Twitter is gone, her blog is gone, and her LinkedIn Profile is either hidden or gone. (I couldn't find it anyway.) What happened?
Blazek must have forgot that the days of private communication are over when she responded to a rather polite LinkedIn connection request with the following email:
[H]ow about starting with NOT presuming I would share my nearly 1,000 personally-known LinkedIn contacts with a TOTAL stranger? How bush league to pull that stunt. It's what kids do--ask senior executives to link in to them, so they can mine contacts for job leads. That's tacky, not to mention entitled--what in the world do I derive from accepting a stranger's connection request? You earned a "I Don't Know ______" from me today, for such an assumptive move. Please learn that a LinkedIn connection is the equivalent of a personal recommendation. If I haven't heard of someone, met them, or worked with them, why would I ever vouch for them on LinkedIn?
What happened here is that Blazek identified herself as a "powerful person." And as such a person, she has the ability to do or say whatever she wants. While that may have been the case before, it's certainly not true now.
In this case, the supposedly powerless job seeker took advantage of this brand new little invention called "the internet" and published the email online. Everybody picked it up and tossed it around and Blazek, an award-winning communicator, found out how the world communicates in 2014.
Similarly, you aren't immune to this. Every thing you put on the internet, every email you send, and even--in this age of smart phones--every thing you do in a public place can be easily spread across the Web. And if you do something mean enough, or stupid enough, or funny enough, everyone will know about it.
Snide comments about coworker A sent to coworker B? Totally private, right? Until coworker A gets promoted and coworker B decides to throw you under the bus to get on the new boss's good side. Naughty selfies sent to your current boyfriend? Well, what happens if he becomes your bitter, angry, ex-boyfriend? Hmmm?
And then, let's talk legalities. Your quick note back to HR that the job candidate won't work out because he's "too old," is grounds for a lawsuit and is discoverable. It does't matter that what you meant is that it's been five years since he's done X and his experience is too far in the past. What about the dirty joke that you send at work? Yep, someone forwards that to HR and you find yourself out on your rear end because the last thing a company needs is a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Repeat after me: The internet is forever. Once you hit send, or post, it doesn't go away. You can delete it, cancel your accounts, or post anonymously, but it doesn't go away. (For instance, Blazek took her website down, but I found it with the way back machine.) And think you're anonymous? Ha! If someone wants to figure out who you are badly enough, they can.
It's easy enough to avoid this type of thing, by the way. How? Be polite. You can be blunt. You can be clear. You just need to be polite. Additionally, assume that everything you post on the internet can be traced back to you. And especially when emailing strangers? If you're rude to them, what on earth would motivate them to be nice to you?