Does anyone remember playing the game of “Telephone” when you were a kid? Someone starts by whispering a phrase into the ear of the person next to them, and it continues being passed along until the last person states the phrase out loud. It’s pretty funny to hear how the original phrase changes to the final phrase.
Although not exactly the same, responsible communications are an important factor in all businesses. You should think about proofreading anything you put in writing, including emails. When you read your documents, before you publish or hit “send”, think about how your statements could be misinterpreted by a jury in court, or even by the public if printed in the newspaper.
This may sound like covering up, but it’s really a matter of protecting you and your company’s reputation. Remember to stick only to the facts and avoid jargon. Do not embellish or insert your personal opinions and assumptions. Avoid making inflammatory statements. Finally, avoid joking or anything that can be misconstrued.
If you have a sensitive topic to cover, perhaps it’s best to do so with a person-to-person discussion or phone call. Consider if sending an email is even appropriate. If you do send an email on a sensitive topic, be sure to limit the recipients to only small few who absolutely need to know about it. Investigate using the option to not allow forwarding.
Consider the following hypothetical email:
To: Joe Small, Mary Smith, Jose Cuervo, Tim Tall, Tina Turner, Gary Right, Lisa May, Jon Wong, Jim Beam, Cheri Otari, Derek Funk, Pete Wagnall, Elaine Benes, George Jefferson, Carlton Banks, Rose Nylund
Subject: Oops – We did it again
Although we were warned previously, we continue to have contamination issues with our product Morocote. I suspect the levels of poly-ethyl-bad-stuff have increased to the point where people may become sick. This is unacceptable, and we need a plan to conceal this.
Any suggestions? Forward to your teams for their input. Let’s meet at 2:00 today to discuss.
What’s wrong with this email? Everything! This is obviously a sensitive subject, and probably should have been dealt with in person rather than by email. In addition, he sends it to a large distribution list and even advises forwarding. There was no regard for “need to know.” When he says “I suspect”, he is indicating there is no evidence, but rather he is making an assumption. He also uses inflammatory wording in the subject line as well as in the body of the text, when he says “we were warned previously” and “we need a plan to conceal.” How do you think a jury would react to this? I think a jury would be ready to find against this company just based on this email, when in reality, his company may truly have done nothing wrong.
Just as in the game of Telephone, what you write in your communications can easily be distorted. Don’t allow that to happen. Train your employees on responsible communication techniques. If you need help with training, contact us at Strategic Realm Consulting. We’ll be happy to help with your training needs.