YOU Magazine - March 2008 - FW: Forward Thinking Simple Email Etiquette By Tim Sanders
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FW: Forward Thinking
Simple Email Etiquette
By Tim Sanders

FW: Forward Thinking - Simple Email Etiquette - By Tim Sanders

Welcome to my first article on email and how to use it more effectively in your life. I call it The Dirty Dozen Rules Of Email Etiquette. I'm the former Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo!® I also wrote the book, The Likeability Factor. And for the last year my team and I have been doing research on how people just like you feel about email and how it's used in your culture and in your life. It can be your biggest tool or your Achilles' heel. It just depends on what you know.

First time I ever sent an email was 1996. I was a subscriber to Prodigy. If you remember, Prodigy operated via a 28.8 modem at the time. I believe it took five minutes alone to log on. The first email I ever received and read was from a customer service representative at Prodigy. I'll never forget it. It was an ugly, one-sentence reply with neither a period nor a capitalized first letter. It read rudely. It made me boil, and I unsubscribed from Prodigy within a day of receiving it.

Decades have gone by since then, and not much has changed. Every single day it seems like we receive what I like to call a "stinger," an email that makes us crazy. Yet, I am shocked that we don't take email training the day we go to work. I'm shocked that companies would give Blackberries® and laptops to people, put the name of the company in the email address, and sick them on the world without etiquette training. So that's why I'm here. Research says that 90 percent of all communications at work are over email. A recent survey that we conducted of over 3,000 professionals put email etiquette or email habits in the top five things that irritated the respondents about the last job they had quit.

So here's one of the dirty dozen rules, I hope it makes a difference in your life!

Rule No. 4: Think before you forward.
At one of the companies I did research at there was a saying. If you want something to go global, telephone, telefax, or tell Deborah, and then you'll get the job done. Deborah was one of those people that would forward everything to everyone, even before she read it in the first place. How many times have you had one of your personal emails forwarded without your permission? Did it get you in trouble? This is no different than someone who walks out of a conference room and is a little tattletale or a gossip snipe. What I've found is that the forward button in email makes millions of people 21st-century tattletales.

When I send you something over email instead of calling you on the phone or coming by your cubicle, that doesn't mean that I'm signing a waiver of my privacy and your discretion. There's still an implicit social contract that, unless it's stated otherwise, the things we talk about are personal. Yet it's so easy for us to forward an email to a third party, without reading the entire thread or the entire context, and not taking that other person's reputation and feelings into account.

So I have a system, and I'm so sorry it's based on three letters that actually form a word. I can't help it. But the acronym is PAL. P stands for permission. The first question is, do I have permission to forward? Here's an example: Customers email you when they are having a problem. They'll say, "feel free to forward this to the right person if you're not the right person." That's when you explicitly have permission.

The A stands for what will it accomplish? In other words, if I forward this to another person, is it going to help get something done? Is it going to create a deeper understanding of an issue? If you don't see any upside to it, even with the permission, don't forward.

The last idea, and that is L: is this email loaded? In other words, sometimes an email is emotionally charged. It can take just one or two words like "that idiot," to change the entire tone of an email you've forwarded, where you've been told you have permission to forward it, and you know that it would accomplish something. Sometimes sensitive or private issues are discussed further down the email, especially if it is part of a threaded conversation.

When you have permission, you know it's going to make a change, and there's no emotional content in it, then you may hit the forward.

Here's a bonus idea: When you're sending me an email, if you don't want me to forward it, in capital letters at the beginning of the email, say "DO NOT FORWARD." This will ensure that you keep your conversations private. If you have to say something over email that might upset other people (criticism, etc.), make sure you know that your recipient is not to forward – you'd be surprised how much that will reduce email mishaps in your life.

Buy The Dirty Dozen Rules Of Email Etiquette at

Get more email, business and life advice at Tim's blog:

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