E-mail may well be the most convenient communication tool around, but it’s not without significant peril. Like an important confidential memo left on the copier, e-mail can represent a huge risk. Here are the top five e-mail mistakes and tips on how to avoid each one:
5. Deleting incoming e-mail and expecting it to disappear
Don’t assume that hitting the delete button makes e-mail disappear forever. First, the sender still has a copy. Plus, there’s probably a copy on your organization’s e-mail server, as most businesses regularly back up all files, including e-mail. Finally, nothing on your hard drive is erased permanently until another piece of data is stored on top of the deleted information. Even then, special techniques can retrieve information from hard drives.
4. Sending and receiving personal e-mail from company e-mail systems
There are two problems here. First, your employer probably frowns on this (read your company e-mail policy for specifics). Second, your company’s IT staff can (and likely does) monitor outgoing and incoming e-mail. Unless you want everyone to know your personal business, use an alternative, web-based e-mail program to send and receive personal e-mail.
3. Failing to use spell-check before sending the message
Most e-mail programs include a spell-check feature, but few people use it consistently. Get in the habit. Nothing tarnishes a professional image quicker than an e-mail full of spelling errors. At best, the recipient will think you were in a hurry. At worst, he’ll judge your competence by the content of your unedited e-mail and wonder whether the errors reflect incompetence or carelessness in other areas of your working life.
2. Clicking on an attached file before verifying the sender
Hackers love to launch Internet attacks by sending executable files in innocent-looking e-mails from familiar sources. They typically hide malicious computer programs in attachments. Once opened, the programs may attach to your e-mail address book and send the same file to 100 of your closest e-mail buddies—who each get an attached file from a trusted source (that’s you). Then, the hacker’s program may take over your computer—quietly, in the background while you work—and send out spam or attack other web sites using your computing power.
To avoid problems, don’t open attachments from strangers or from people you know but from whom you’re not expecting a file. Plus, make sure you have the latest updated virus protection in place and that the IT staff at the office is up on security.
1. Hitting “reply to all” when you meant to reply just to the sender
We’ve all done it—clicked the “reply to all” and “send” buttons when we meant to reply to the sender. The whole list gets your response whether you wanted them to have it or not. This can be especially disastrous if the information you sent is confidential.
Consider the case of Spirit Airlines CEO B. Ben Baldanza. When he received an e-mail complaint from a customer who had copied other Spirit Airlines employees on the message, he accidentally clicked “reply to all” instead of replying only to one of the Spirit staffers on the list. His mass e-mail said, “We owe him nothing…. Let him tell the world how bad we are…. [He] will be back when we can save him a penny.” Within days, the response had been posted on blogs and consumer web sites around the world. That’s the kind of free publicity no CEO wants.
Final tip: You can avoid most e-mail problems by slowing down just a little bit. Take the time to make sure your e-mails are professional and directed to the person or persons you intend.
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