Minding your manners Featured

8:49am EDT February 27, 2003
A new survey by Accountemps reports that more executives and managers prefer to communicate with employees via e-mail than ever before.

I understand that; e-mail allows you to be in control of when the communication takes place and how long it lasts. It can be an efficient and time-saving means of interaction. But it's also a very dangerous one.

Alone with nothing but our computers, we may feel a false sense of anonymity, and seemingly harmless words can take on new meanings for the reader. Without seeing the subtle look in the eyes or a smile, or hearing that humorous inflection in the voice, a joke or casual remark can be blown out of proportion.

It is essential to remember that when you send e-mail, you are still communicating as a member of a work team and an employee, and you must maintain a professional tone and manner.

I've been both the perpetrator and the victim of these cybercrimes in courtesy, and while I've survived to tell the tale, it is not without scars. Since we aren't face-to-face with the recipient, it's easy take offense to an offhand comment. Then the temptation is to return an e-mail consisting of remarks we would rarely make over the telephone or in person, at least not without a more careful choice of words.

Sitting at the computer can give you a sense of bravery that is quickly eliminated when an equally unhappy person responds in kind. And then it is difficult to mend the damage.

For routine business matters, e-mail is a great form of communication. But if the message is serious or the e-mails begin to turn sour, pick up the phone or go visit.

You might be mistaken -- the other person might not have misunderstood your remarks or be upset -- but it's better not to take that chance.

Read through the e-mail before sending it and ask yourself if there's anything in it you wouldn't say if the person were in front of you. If the answer is yes, then think again before hitting the "send" button.