Be Careful What You Put in Writing -- Tactic #4

Originally published 11/22/10

We've all seen it -- that horrible email sent by a foolish or cloddish peer. You know the one, where they use inappropriate language and/or say something so insensitive that it boggles the mind. And we all know what happens to those emails -- they end up circulated to anyone and everyone who might find the behavior offensive.

So if we've all seen it and know the result, why does it keep happening? I believe these instances are the intersection of two events -- a political abstainer or neutral who's in over their head, and a highly emotional situation were the writer feels a self-righteous need to vent.

Email was where I first started seeing this kind of stuff, but today it's hardly limited to the company email account. Now you're at risk based on anything you post on your blog, facebook account, Twitter, leave in voicemails (which can become digitized files that are exchanged via email), or write down anyplace its easily accessible and can be easily copied or circulated.

So what's the secret to managing your writings in such a fashion that you don't undermine yourself, or give your enemies plenty of ammunition to attack you with?

First, warning bells should sound anytime you are typing or talking, and you're angry. If you can't stop, then please, please, please save whatever it is as a draft and hold off hitting send. Once you've cooled off, re-read what you've written.

In most cases, at this point you'll want to delete it.

If you feel compelled to send it, first imagine your words on the front of the newspaper, in your church bulletin, on in the company newsletter. Would it make you proud? If not -- delete.

If you still need to tell someone off -- do it verbally, preferably when no one else is around to hear. At the least doing it this way leaves some uncertainty in the minds of others as to exactly what happened when they hear about it. When put in writing, you've got nowhere to hide.

Second, remember that anything you post on facebook, twitter, linkedin or any other social media site is in the public domain. If juicy enough, or if discovered by an enemy power player, you have to expect it will be used against you. If you must post insults about your employer, or naked pictures, or whatever, do so anonymously.

Tactic #4 is all about showing self-restraint and emotional control. If you can't do that, you have no business playing the politics game.