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.

8 replies
  1. Sandy Styer
    Sandy Styer says:


    What a thoughtful post, and great for your and your daughter to talking about these lessons of living as a human being! I am thinking twice, proofreading and now hitting send to say congrats and thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  2. Ed Drozda
    Ed Drozda says:

    Stewart, thanks for sharing a story that we can all relate to. As technology makes it all too easy to share far and wide we sure do have to develop a whole new set rules of conduct. Even then, the bottom line is that nothing substitutes for the time taken to “consider” what we are doing before acting. The old saying “look before you leap” is not as out-dated as it might have seemed.

  3. Rich Sternhell
    Rich Sternhell says:

    Stewart, thanks for a great post. Unfortunately, I remember the good old days when memos and letters were thoughtfully crafted, typed by a secretary and proofread before being put in an envelope to be delivered. I also remember the dawn of voicemail when a hapless colleague delivered a delightfully saucy message to a member of the opposite sex, but entered a distribution list rather than the appropriate extension. Technology has greatly improved productivity, but alas often at the expense of thought. What I really liked about your post was the emphasis on the “thinking” part of the process. While a well-deserved premium is placed on responsiveness and action, Ed’s reminder of the value of looking before leaping is one we should all remember.

  4. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    I second what Rich Sternhell wrote: I appreciate the emphasis on “thinking,” too. And I envy your daughter the education she’s getting. I wish my schools had addressed real world issues as much as it sounds like hers does.

  5. Chris Downing
    Chris Downing says:

    I Third Rich’s comment (You can Third can’t you? haha.)

    I usually react badly to slights, put-downs and general unfairnesses. My email reaction has caught me out in business so many times. Fire back some acid comment and then have to mop up the debris for weeks afterwards. So I made a rule that I would draft something in Word (to stop me accidentally ‘sending’) and then look at it again the next day. Usually it doesn’t get sent at all in the fresh light of new, untired eyes and brain.

    Secondly I found the inbuilt summarizer in Word very useful in boiling down my usual long winded text to a brief few lines. Check out this option in the tools part of Word. It’s fairly clever but to as good as a newspaper sub-editor – on the other hand it’s free.

    Using the summerizer set to 75% this text reduces to:-

    I Third Rich’s comment. So, I made a rule that I would draft something in Word (to stop me accidentally ‘sending’) and then look at it again the next day.

  6. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    Great post, Stewart. Reminds me of a lesson I learned from a very wise grad school professor–use this three-part test before you hit “Send” (literally or figuratively):
    – Does it need to be said?
    – Does it need to be said right now?
    – Does it need to be said by me?


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] a plethora of advice on sending and handling incoming email, some of which was discussed in Think Before Sending.  But there is very little on how to get your business (not outgoing marketing) emails read.  I […]

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