Creative Leadership

Email Regrets: What You Have in Common with Hillary Clinton

I don’t have to rehash the sad political saga with Hillary Clinton’s private email server and what her hacked emails have revealed. While that ongoing investigation is an important case for national security, another important take-away is what you have in common with Hillary:

You’ve probably revealed too much in your past emails.

Chances are you haven’t risked this country’s classified information, but most likely, you’ve criticized someone, leaked private information, or said something online that you regret. Now, just in case you haven’t learned from Hillary, here’s what you need to remember:

1) Once you hit “Send,” you’ve lost control of that email.  Never forget that the person you’re sending a gossiping email to may be your friend today, but may not be your friend 6 months from now – and they have control of that email. Never be critical or slanderous of anyone in an email. You have no idea where it will end up.

2) Never fire or discipline an employee in an email.  Not only is it poor taste, but once again – hit “Send” and you’ve lost control, and copies of that message could be used in court. Anytime you have to engage with an employee or co-worker on a serious issue, do it face to face.

3) As a result, never say anything in an email you wouldn’t want shouted from the housetops.  We have this idea that email is private communication, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a very public communication platform and you should treat it that way. The FBI, NSA, local law enforcement, your email provider, and a host of others (as in Hillary’s situation, her assistant’s husband) have access to your email messages.

4) Deleted email never really goes away.  Google has admitted that although you hit “delete,” it never really goes away. I understand they strip deleted emails of their tracking information, but are you willing to risk your reputation on what a tech company says? Not me.

5) Finally, even if you’re not the culprit, you can get implicated just because of slanderous or sensitive emails other people send to you.  Because depending on your response, it looks like you’re in on and approve of the conversation. So as Barney Fife used to say, “Nip it in the bud.” Whenever I ask my accountant, attorney, or real estate agent a sensitive question via e-mail, they always reply, “Call me and we’ll discuss.” They know that the phone or face to face is a much better way to deal with sensitive issues. Let your associates and friends know that when it comes to criticism, negativity, or sensitivity, you’d prefer to communicate in a better format than e-mail.

Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that email isn’t private. The current situation with Hillary Clinton is a sad reminder that what we say via email can come back to haunt us.  Have you ever been embarrassed by something an email of yours revealed?

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  1. Email loses all the physical communication and vocal inflections. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten in trouble for emails I’ve sent because the reader has misconstrued what I wrote by adding a layer of emotion that was never originally there. I’ve learned that no matter how diplomatic emails are written, it’s the reader who ultimately decides just what you “really” mean.

  2. You’re on the money there. 100% agree. The core thing I tell people is not to trust the technology to protect you. There is no unbreakable secure technology, and even if there was people are the weak link!

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