A colleague sends you a request to review a 100-page response he’s written to a Request for Proposal from a major prospect. You’re busy and don’t have time. In fact, you and this colleague discussed just the other day how much your workload has increased. So you write a cute response like, “Sure thing! I’ve got nothing but time today. Ha ha.” You go back to work.

Five minutes later, your email inbox dings again – this time with another message from your colleague. “Thanks,” it reads. “I’ve attached the doc and hope to get your input by the end of the day. Come and find me when you’ve reviewed it and you’re ready to discuss.”

Sarcasm doesn’t work in email.

Sarcasm requires gestures, facial expressions and word inflections. Your recipient can’t see or hear any of these things in your email.

A good rule: Don’t use sarcasm in your work-related emails. Ever.

Another good rule: If you write an email that includes any humor, show it to a colleague before sending. As the email’s author, you can’t fully detach from the content and read it entirely from your recipient’s point of view. So give it to a smart, trusted coworker and ask her to answer three questions:

  1. Is the humor in the message actually funny?
  2. Does the message come across in any way as hostile, angry or otherwise unpleasant? (Jokes can often be misconstrued this way.)
  3. Do you find the points (and jokes) I’m making absolutely clear?

If your message fails any of these three tests, rewrite it.