Forwarded emails can threaten professional relationships and reputations. And they often communicate the dangerous content where we don't readily see it–lower down the thread, in a previous screen. The three examples below will remind you to scroll and check content before clicking Send.
1. I was searching for someone to help promote a book for a client, and a marketing specialist responded to my group email. His message presented him well, but I laughed when I happened to scroll down and noticed that his mother had forwarded my message to him. She had instructed him in what to include to sell himself and how much to charge. He had followed his mother's guidance.
At first I thought "Thanks, Mom. You made your son look silly." But his mother wasn't to blame. He had not edited his mother's message when he emailed me.
2. I wrote to a friend asking her for brief information about a mutual acquaintance. Rather than replying to my question, she forwarded my email to our acquaintance.
Normally, that forwarding could be efficient rather than unfortunate. But I had referred to the acquaintance as "the other Lynn" (rather than using her full name), and it was clear from my message that I didn't remember things about her that I probably should have.
The purpose of my original message was to be reminded of things so that I could approach our acquaintance in a more friendly way. Instead, I felt embarrassed that my friend had inadvertently revealed my ignorance. I wish she had considered the thread before clicking Send.
3. An attendee at one of my business writing classes told the story of a hurtful forwarding. As an accounting clerk, she often had to persist in asking for receipts to document expenses. In that context, she found herself referred to as the "accounting nazi" in an email thread. When she read that label, she was angry with the person who wrote it and the person who forwarded it.
Remember: Potential danger lurks beneath the first screen in threads and forwarded messages. Scroll down and remove any unprofessional, hurtful, or negative content before you click Send.
Have you experienced thoughtless forwards or threads? Please share your examples.
You might enjoy the chapter "Protect Your Relationships by Avoiding Bad Email Behaviors" in my book, Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time.