Think Before Sending

What would you do?

That’s what my daughter’s 8th grade class was asked last year. The subject: texting secrets.

One girl had texted to a friend another friend’s embarrassing secret. But she didn’t just send it to one BFF— the text went out to everyone in the class—including, of course, the hapless girl whose secret was no longer.

Sound familiar? I recently received a message sent from one educator to a couple of colleagues regarding a student.  It also went to the institution’s entire mailing list.  This happens a lot in business too.  “Reply all” inadvertently pressed sends messages to the wrong person or people, or to entire lists.  Sometimes those slipped messages lead to a career and/or personal life hurt or destroyed.

The cause: carelessness, haste, anger? Doesn’t really matter. Who would think a simple button on a screen marked “send” could cause so much havoc?

Not Just Another Reply-All Horror Story

We could talk about how to recover from the gaffe via an apology. We could talk about how to use email properly.

Or–we could discuss how these types of issues affect trust.  And they do.  Think of this from the perspective of the Trust Equation.  Sending to the wrong person or group of people reduces Credibility and Reliability.  What gets inadvertently shared decreases Intimacy–after all sharing a secret shows a lack of discretion, even if done by mistake.

Here’s what my daughter learned as a result of this exercise with her class:

  • Double check everything before sending any electronic message (email, text, Facebook, IM)
  • Consider the medium–should the message be sent electronically, or is it better delivered in person or by phone
  • Should it be sent at all, by any medium (is it gossip or otherwise inappropriate to share)
  • Be prepared to do the right thing in the event things don’t work out.

The Big LessonLess Is More

As I thought about it, I think the third point—“should it be sent at all”—is by far the more powerful lesson my daughter learned that day.  Think it through.  Take a deep breath.  Count to ten. What’s your role in the situation?  What will the consequences be? Will saying anything really matter in a positive way?

These are profound lessons for all of us.  Adults suffer all the time from not having learned these lessons earlier in life.  How often do we act out and regret later?  How often do we say hurtful things even when we don’t mean to and suffer remorse?  How often do we hurt those we love?

Some time ago I learned from a lawyer colleague I respect and trust, that when it comes to the written and spoken word, less is more.  Shouldn’t we at least think about this before we hit Send?

I think my daughter learned a few rules of email etiquette that day—and one massive lesson about living life as a human being.

I’m pleased it was a topic for an 8th grade class, and it’s not the first time her school addressed real world issues.  I just hope we don’t have to wait for this generation to grow up before these valuable lessons are commonly used in the business community.