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Bright Ideas for Leadership

The Seven Deadly (to your career) Email Sins

Both in Christian religious tradition and classical literature the listing of the seven deadly sins have stood the test of time. With deep respect for both the literary and religious origins, it is worth a look at them as a way to review how many professionals can mortally wound (deadly) their careers and credibility by the way they communicate; particularly via email.

Why Deadly?

In both sin of the religious type and the professional blunder, can have varying impact. They can look silly such as sloppy grammar, or they can cost your reputation and even have legal implications. There are spell and grammar checks in email but there is no automated way to save oneself from fatal professional mistakes by email.

Many of these are culled from business examples and I confess I have done most, if not all of them in my own time. The costs are not always immediate, but cumulative and can come from a single careless note, or from a pattern of mistakes.

The List

Lust – Including flirting or innuendo in professional communication

In business there is no room for humor of a sexual or flirtatious nature. A welcome comment at times, these remarks are a lit stick of dynamite that can lose its charm in a moment. What one person can say to another today and be laughed off, may tomorrow ignite a scandal that can cost hurt feelings or end in legal action. The arbitrariness of this seems unfair. Perhaps it is. But if there is unfairness, it is in the notion that it was ever okay. It is unfair that what one could get away with in a business context what should never be said.

This goes both for flirting and is just as deadly in humorous form. Being a fan of language fun – word play – my own pun sense of humor is my worst enemy. While a quick wit looks clever at times, it can cause harm and mistrust as much as anything deliberate. And, “I was just joking” is not an excuse.  As I mentioned at the opening, this one is one I have had to address personally.

So avoid the risk and just keep the professional communications professionals. This goes for personal interaction as well as written and electronic messaging. If you choose to pursue a romantic relationship in the office context, do so carefully and insulate both or be prepared for the repercussions.

Gluttony– The long rambling email where all the detail nobody will ever read is included

With definitions ranging from eating too fast to eating too much, here the gluttony of email is the overindulgence of words. We have all seen examples of this – the email that is 2 printed pages long and often in only two or three paragraphs. Aside from the grammar issues of run-on sentences, the simple fact is there are some email authors that will prattle on far longer than justified.

Many people have their own opinion of how long is too long in emails. What is important in communication is that we convey all that the author needs to express. However; it is meaningless to compose a 5 page missive that nobody reads because of the overwhelming length of the text.

Greed – Share the credit and give praise generously.

There are so many faces of greed. Greed of credit. Greed of bonus and promotions. Greed of attention from the boss. Here is where generosity can save the day. A savvy boss will recognize a sincere effort to share credit. And team members will turn so quickly if a glory glutton rides in to save the day singlehandedly.

Like all of these, one may have to defend themselves when credit has been denied them.  This is not a case where careful positioning is not appropriate, but the warning is to be aware of crossing a line.

Sloth – Respond fully and in a timely fashion

A word that seems to be a complaint of so many leaders – and even those being led – the person who is slow to respond in communication. Perhaps there is blame to be shared in this one. If the communication is time sensitive, email may not be the best way to communicate. But for those occasions where email is the best way to get information to the right audience in a timely and uniform manner, delays are deadly. And just as bad are lazily composed messages with incomplete or missing details.

Wrath – Never send an email in anger. The danger is not just rants or abusive messages, but also the “zingers” and snide remarks.

Those with tempers should not send emails. From personal experience, an email sent at the moment of anger or frustration can hurt undercut future credibility and good will. Depending on the offense, it may be apologized away once or twice, but some cannot be walked back. And from a manager, it is never acceptable to lose your temper in an email.

This is not to say an email cannot be stern or emphatic – but it can never be on the spur of the moment. And it can never from an emotional reaction. Think – then email

Pride – It is not about you.

There is a time and place to advance your own agenda and your own career. However, to do so at the expense of others, or to deny the valuable contributions of the whole team can backfire. Unless success can truly be accomplished single-handedly, claiming more credit than is prudent can leave you without that team that helped with each those successes you took pride in.

Envy – let the light shine on others.

Deserved or not, the attention will fall sometimes on a team member. LET IT. If there was fraud or deception, that is one thing, but allow the spotlight go from time to time.

Remember – it is about extremes; going too far.  In moderation some of the things described are okay, but everyone gets in trouble when they lose control and go too far.  When in doubt – wait before sending an email in haste.

To learn more about communication strategies and ways to increase your effectiveness, we would be happy to provide more information. The best executives multiply themselves through effective visioning, planning, communicating and selling the plan to their organizations. Contact us here, at RPS for more information.

Updated: November 2, 2015 — 12:24 am
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