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Write Every Email as if it will be Read in a Court of Law

chris kopp legal professional development strategy Feb 27, 2021
Write Every Email as if it will be Read in a Court of Law

One thing I’ve learned over the years is to type every email as if it will be read in a court of law. In those uncomfortable situations when the bottom falls out of a business relationship and companies end up in court…the written word is typically given more credence than people’s memories. That is why it is critical (especially if you are customer facing) to review, re-read, edit, and review again any correspondence that leaves your desktop.

Just the Facts

I’m not saying that issues can’t be dealt with via E-mail. They should. What I am saying is to be mindful of how things are presented. Keep to the facts. “I told them a thousand times before, but you know how they are…” can be rewritten as “They had been informed a number of times previously but decided to not act upon the information.” Same message, big difference.

Why is This so Important?

The following are just a few reasons why it's so important to stick to the facts when it comes to writing your emails.

  • Exponential Distribution Lists: Distribution lists can contain scores of people that are working on a project that end up on the receiving end of a flaming email. Those scores of people now have the ability to forward to their entire network of associates, their network of associates can forward it to their network, and on and on it goes.
  • Auto Fill is NOT Your Friend: I’ve heard too many gut-wrenching stories where someone is in a rush, types in the first name in the To: field in Outlook and Outlook takes care of the rest…Auto-Filling in the WRONG name. In those extreme circumstances where email ends up in the wrong Inbox, it’s better to have a professionally written email with just the facts rather than an op-ed piece that lays it out for the world to see.
  • It Could End up in Court: Electronic Discovery, or “e-discovery” could certainly show that the writer of an email had a certain slant, disposition, or bias that could swing the case one way or the other.

Five Do’s and Don’ts

To stay out of these less than desirable situations, below are a couple of do’s and don’ts:

    • Don’t use sarcasm in email. It never translates well.
    • Don’t fill your email with your personal opinions or emotions. Keep it to the business at hand and deal with it professionally.

 

  • Do keep extremes out of your email. Terms like “you always” or “they never” are rarely true and only fuel the fire.

 

  • Do let some time pass before you send an email after a high-stress situation. The difference between sending an email the very first thing in the morning rather than last thing the day before is really only minutes. But, it could save hours, days, and weeks of regretful complications and frustration.
  • Do review your To: list prior to sending sensitive emails. There are too many “Michael’s” and “Michelle’s” and other common names that, via Auto Fill, could receive an interesting email that you had not meant to send to them.

These are just a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to writing your emails. Remember, there's always a place for strong opinions, emotions, and editorializing in business. Face-to-face or over the phone is best. Keeping your emails transactional and your conversations personal will keep you on the path of being an effective manager and out of hot water!