Don’t Do Dumb Documents

Here’s the scenario:  You’re frustrated with a colleague.  You send him an email sharing your point of view.  He responds with a nasty-gram of his own; you read it and your blood begins to boil.  You send back a zinger.  He shares it with everyone else in the office.  You’re mortified!  It was intended only for him.  Now others in the office are angry with you; their perception of you seems to have shifted.  It doesn’t seem fair.  Things really got out of hand.  You wonder how it happened.  Here’s the thing:  Don’t do dumb documents.

“Don’t Do Dumb Documents.”  That was the name of a document retention and elimination workshop that the Legal Department offered when I was with Sprint.  It was important, required information – I heard the session multiple times and came to genuinely appreciate the advice and guidance offered.  You can imagine what it was all about:  What to save, what not to save, what to write on, what disclosures to make, etc.  In particular though, the course facilitator always emphasized one essential point:  Never put something in writing that might ultimately come back to haunt you.

Let me repeat:  Never put something in writing that might ultimately come back to haunt you.  It is a really important thing to remember.  Here’s why:  Sure, there’s the issue that the information may be “discoverable” should a litigious situation arise, but, perhaps more importantly, there is a reputational concern to consider – you must assume that whatever you wrote will be shared far and wide.

So, when interacting with others – whether they are your colleagues, networking contacts, fellow volunteers, friends or family, if you don’t want anyone but the intended recipient to read something you wrote – if it could be embarrassing, hurtful, rude, etc., then don’t put it in writing!  It is that simple.

Note:  The Don’t Do Dumb Documents workshop, at least in the days when I was at Sprint, did not contemplate the advent of social media.  My guess is that if we were to sit in that class today, social media communications would be included as a key topic.  Refer to yesterday’s post with my cautionary tale about social media based communications.

3 thoughts to “Don’t Do Dumb Documents”

  1. Good advice.

    Reminds me of an acquaintance many years ago who forgot this rule and was fired by her employer as a result. Turns out her disagreement with a coworker prompted an email nasty gram that had an element of potential violence associated with it. The company’s no-tolerance policy required that my acquaintance be dismissed immediately.

    Too often we forget that emails are the property of our employer.

  2. Received this great advice via email from another member of the CLC community: I read your post yesterday entitled “Don’t Do Dumb Documents.” Your message was very well said. This has always been my practice. If a person needs to vent, I suggest taking a paper tablet and a pen and writing out your message in long hand and then throwing it away. The physical exercise and the emotional exercise will usually make one feel better and not destroy their reputation among their co-workers.

  3. I agree with Alana. I cannot count the number of emails or hand written notes I’ve created but did not send. It’s also a good idea to discuss any misunderstandings or potential conflicts in person. This seems to be forgotten in the age of “digital” communications. The personal touch is still the best practice, IMO. It’s not the easiest it seems these days but it is still the most effective and leaves less room for misunderstanding. It also creates something called a “conversation” – now there’s a new concept it seems!

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