What NOT to Say in Your Work Email

The Public Speaker has 3 tips to make sure your emails don’t get you into hot water.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #153

You've heard of the Miranda warning (“anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”). But today I’m going to teach you the Marshall warning: Everything you say in an email can and will be held against you by everyone at work!

By now, it's common knowledge that at most companies email is stored for long periods of time and can be searched and read at any time. Email can even be used as evidence in a U.S. court of law.

Still, it seems some people manage to get themselves in trouble. The problem is that we tend to feel less vulnerable when communicating in writing than when communicating face-to-face. I call this keyboard bravery! We'll often email something we're too timid to say in person.


For me the biggest reason that I prefer to pick up the phone is to have a voice-to-voice conversation. We transmit and interpret a tremendous amount of information in our tone of voice and body language. Besides, when you are having a conversation, you can adjust what you say along the way. If you put something in a message or social media update, it’s a done deal! It’s part of your permanent record (remember when that was just a silly threat?)

So what exactly should you avoid when it comes to email? Here are 3 Quick and Dirty Tips to help keep you out of hot water:

Tip #1: Keep it Positive

Don’t bash the people you work with. This applies to co-workers, vendors, bosses, clients. Even though Suzie, your co-worker is a big pain, it’s not a good idea to share that opinion in a work email. Always assume that everyone in the entire company, including Suzie and your boss, will see and read your email.

You never know, someone might forward your email either by accident or even on purpose. Or worse, that someone may be you when you might accidently hit “reply all” revealing all the nastiness for everyone to see. Keep in mind this “keep it positive” rule applies to social media and online forums, as well. In general, public negativity is usually not a good idea and putting that negativity in writing is guaranteed to come back at you.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.