Clear Comm Consulting

The Everyday Misunderstandings Lurking in Your E-Mail, Part II

Feb 28, 2008

We’ve struck gold! For anyone who did not see last month’s Monthly Memo, please check back issues at The mistakes and misunderstandings that plague our everyday life in the e-mail world have sparked a wealth of reaction from many of you. Here, for your continued enjoyment, are further examples and helpful suggestions in avoiding the nightmares.

Our friend spelchek: Sure, it is supposed to be a great tool to help save us from embarrassment, but a couple of points were made by readers. First there is the annoying override. You correctly put “Vicki” in the e-mail, but then spell check comes along and changes it to “Victor.”

A Vicki we heard about through one reader says it happens to her all the time and she has a great attitude about it. Thank goodness!

Also, remember spell check does not reach up and check your subject line. A reader recounted assembling a perfect e-mail, then noticing just after hitting “send” that there is a typo in the subject line! Ouch. It’s like dressing perfectly for that job interview only to realize later you left the plastic dry cleaning button holder stuck to your jacket!

Another reader recounted someone hoping she had a great Super Bowel weekend! Again, spell check can only take us so far — don’t depend on it to do the thinking for us.

Everyone’s Legal Exposure: More than one reader mentioned, with horror, some of the things they read in e-mails that could later come back to play a starring role in a law suit. You and everyone who puts their hands to the keyboard at your workplace should know e-mail is a very public form of communication. Anytime you are at work or sending work-related material, it should be treated as if it is something that could be discoverable in a law suit. (Ask the last two residents in the White House about this!)

You don’t have to be high-profile to get caught on this item. One reader mentioned people writing about their own “cost overruns” or “sloppy work” in e-mails. If a lawyer is looking for support material in a suit against your company, those two search terms then find that e-mail, which gets reprinted and blown up in an exhibit for the jury to look at in court. Who knew? You should know.

Let this be a full-scale warning for everyone. To borrow an expression from my previous life in the Media, can your e-mail pass the headline test? The headline test means could it stand the scrutiny of showing up in a headline in tomorrow’s paper? We live in a very public world, with blog writers and snoops and others who are just looking for a juicy item which can be damaging, or at least look damaging. Keep in mind all the different ways your material can be used and make sure you and everyone you work with understand the stakes when you hit “send.”

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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