Just a few examples of how writing the wrong things in an email can do significant, irreparable damage:

It cost Governor Mark Sanford his job and good name.

Mark Sanford, the disgraced former governor of South Carolina, was ultimately ousted from his position because of an extramarital affair. The evidence that proved the affair – and made Sanford an international laughing stock – was a series of emails he wrote to his mistress.

A short excerpt: “I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent little kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips….”

Think the governor expected to find this private email to his mistress published in newspapers around the world?

It cost one of the most respected climate research facilities its credibility.

The Climate Research Unit at England’s University of East Anglia is one of a handful of research centers from which the United Nations pulls data for its global climate reports. The head of the Climate Research Unit, Phil Jones, became the subject of worldwide suspicion and criticism when emails surfaced showing that Jones had manipulated climate data. Emails like this:

“I’ve just completed Mike’s [science journal] Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

Now that these emails are public, do you think the public will ever again trust Phil Jones’s climate analysis?

It cost Cerner Corporation and its shareholders millions of dollars.

In 2001, Neal Patterson, CEO of the healthcare IT company Cerner Corporation, sent an internal email to his senior staff, berating them for not working hard enough – and threatening to fire them all.

An excerpt: “As managers, you either do not know what your EMPLOYEES are doing or you do not CARE. In either case, you have a problem and you will fix it or I will replace you.”

The email leaked. Investors got nervous. And the company’s stock dropped nearly 22%.


You never know where your email will surface, who will read it, or how it will be used. So when you’re writing any email message – even an informal one to a trusted friend – remember this rule: If you wouldn’t say it to the whole group in a staff meeting, don’t write it.