5 times you should never send an email

If you experience any of these emotions when you have to send an email, step away from the send button. That email can wait until later.

I wonder if Suffolk University Law Professor Michael Avery wanted all of the attention that he is getting from sending a five-paragraph email to his colleagues?

Avery emailed his colleagues with reasons why he didn’t approve of mailing care packages to troops overseas. His email was in response to a request from the university to support the men and women of the military.

He wrote: “I think it is shameful that it is perceived as legitimate to solicit in an academic institution for support for men and women who have gone overseas to kill other human beings.”

The control factor in emails

Put aside the irony that our troops are fighting for his right to send that email. From a communications perspective, this email brings up a separate issue about what you can and cannot control when you send an email.

For instance, you cannot control how people will receive your message, what mood they will be in when they read it, how quickly they will respond to it, or why they might forward it to their friends—or even the media.

Frankly, the only factor you can control with emails is whether or not to hit the send button.

Your emotions are the best way to decide what to do. If you can describe yourself as “feeling _____” (fill in one of the emotions below), then slowly count to 10, take a walk, or do something other than send that email.

1. Angry

Whether you’re mad at the intended recipient or someone else, your negative emotions will come through loud and clear with your word choice, phrasing, sentence structure and tone.

If you think your tone might be negative, use a unique service called Tone Check. This program analyzes your word choice and shows you how to edit your emails to communicate a positive tone.

2. Impatient

Say you’ve run out of patience with someone and need their report. You can write “Send me the report now!!!!” which will likely get either no response or more delays.

A better option would be to call the person or stop by his desk to find out what’s causing the delay. Both of you will benefit if you can see each other’s body language and facial expressions, as well as hear vocal cues over the phone. These cues give a complete message as opposed to impersonal text on a screen.

3. Argumentative

Be objective with yourself. Are you picking verbal fights with people today? If the answer is yes, don’t send an email. It will only make the situation worse.

When you’re in this mood, writing is only cathartic for you. Your emails mirror your moods. If you feel argumentative, your email will come across that way and not achieve your goal.

4. Unfocused

How many times have you found yourself talking with Jim on the phone, writing Sally an email, and motioning to Fred who is standing in your doorway waiting to meet with you in the conference room?

You probably sent the email to Jim, asked Sally to hold on, and forget who was in front of you.

5. Exhausted

When you’re tired, you lose your ability to explain your point coherently. If coffee helps you become more alert, that’s great. Otherwise come back to the email when you’re not so tired, or do something else to regain your energy.

If you send an email when you’re in any of these moods, you will most likely embarrass yourself and hurt your reputation. You’re worth more than a quick hit on the send button. Your work will always be there, but your self worth and personal value take top priority.

Josh Gordesky is president of Game Plan Communications. A version of this post ran on his blog, I Hate Long Emails.


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