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How To Avoid Sending Emails That Get You in Trouble

If you’ve ever said something snarky about someone in an email—and then mistakenly sent it to them—you know that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize you can’t hit “un-send.” Make sure it never happens again.


  • Step 1: Think twice about forwarding chain letters, product warnings, and tearjerker tales. Most are urban legends and hoaxes, and some contain spyware and viruses. At best, you look like a dope for passing them on. At worst, you could destroy someone’s computer.
  • TIP: Beware of emails that warn of viruses; sometimes they themselves are a virus!
  • Step 2: Never reveal anything personal or confidential about yourself or your company in an email. You might trust the recipient, but the information could always fall into the wrong hands accidentally. In general, don’t reveal anything you wouldn’t want the world to know.
  • FACT: Ninety percent of us have sent emails we wish we could take back.
  • Step 3: Avoid forwarding offensive or dirty email jokes—or at least be selective about to whom you send them.
  • Step 4: Remember the old saying, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” This definitely applies to email! Save gossip for face-to-face communication.
  • Step 5: Skip the sarcasm. Sure, _you_ know you’re joking, but the recipient can’t hear your tone or see your smirk. In fact, one survey shows that 80% of sarcasm in an email is taken at face value. So save the comedy for your stand-up show.
  • TIP: Not sure whether your email could be misinterpreted? Before sending, read it out loud. If the email could be read two different ways, you’d better tweak it.
  • Step 6: Never dash off an email when you’re upset or angry. You’ll probably calm down in a little while, but your email will live for eternity. If you must write the email, don’t send it but save it as a draft for a certain period of time.
  • TIP: Google offers a sobriety-check program that forces would-be emailers to solve a few math problems before they are deemed of sound enough mind to hit “send.”
  • Step 7: Never say anything in an email you wouldn’t say under oath in a court of law—because technically, you _are_! Under federal law, your emails are public domain once you send them and are considered useable testimony in court.

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