Thursday, March 20, 2014

You'll shoot your 'I' out

When military leaders train soldiers in how to fire a weapon they also train them in how not to fire it. In fact the emphasis often falls more on the latter than the former. Outside of a combat situation, It is standard operating procedure to have safeties on and chambers clear of rounds. That means one must perform three deliberate actions in order to fire the weapon -- switch the safety off, chamber a round and squeeze the trigger.

Too bad we aren't required to take such careful steps before we fire off an email, especially a reply-to-sender email. All we have to do is click on the return arrow, type some words -- well thought out or not -- and press the send trigger.

Bang! Just like the bullet, we can't get that email back. And, like the bullet, a random email can have bad consequences, especially for the sender.

Ask the founder and unpaid operator of an online job bank for marketing / communications positions. Apparently frustrated with a few would-be candidates who had not established any qualifications for receiving job postings, she fired back with, shall we say, somewhat acerbic replies. To wit: "Where in this note do you indicate what industry you are in? Am I a mind reader?.. I suggest you sign up for the other Job Bank in town. Oh, guess what -- there isn't one."

Ouch. Predictably the matter didn't end there but soon lit up the social media and attracted the attention of the Plain Dealer, a local radio station,, BBC News, the International Business Times. Public apologies notwithstanding, the marketing / communications guru felt compelled to shutter the job bank as well as her blog and twitter account and to return a Communicator of the Year award from 2013.

You'll notice I'm not naming the lady. She has received more public scorn than many violent felons. The PD ran three stories -- count 'em, 1 - 2 - 3 -- plus an opinion piece for a total of 137 column inches. I don't think Ohio's largest daily ran 137 inches on Sam Sheppard. Okay, it did. But still ....

I recap the episode merely to illustrate how an email can blow up in one's face -- and to suggest a safeguard.

When we write a sensitive email, we would do well to save, not send, our first draft. Reread it later -- even 10 minutes later -- and only then hit send.

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