Top 5 Tips for Avoiding the Pitfalls of Email

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In this age of instant communication, email is playing an increasingly important role in the day to day operations of community associations. Boards, managers, homeowners, attorneys and contractors routinely use email to pass along information quickly and efficiently. Quick and easy communication is a good thing, right? Well, under most circumstances, yes. However, in my experience providing representation for community associations, the instantaneous, yet somewhat removed (i.e., not face-to-face) quality of email communications, if misused, can cause real problems within a community association.

Below is a list of tips that Boards and professionals working with community associations can use in order to keep email as an effective tool of communication, rather than a weapon of mass destruction:

  1. DO NOT ASSUME THAT ONLY YOUR INTENDED RECIPIENT WILL READ YOUR EMAIL.
    This warning should be posted on everyone's computer as it applies to ALL email communications. Emails can become subject to discovery in litigation, and can easily be forwarded, intentionally or unintentionally, to others. Moreover, emails can be intercepted, deleted or even changed by anyone with the technological skills to do so. Before sending an email, ask yourself if you would die of embarrassment if this email somehow got published in tomorrow's newspaper. If the answer is yes, you probably shouldn't send it.
  2. AN EMAIL IS A WRITING, NOT A CONVERSATION.
    An email, although a quick form of communication, still amounts to a writing and not a conversation. You should not put anything into an email which could easily be misinterpreted or taken out of context-i.e., the all-too-common practice of "venting" via email. Contrary to popular belief, the words contained in an email do not disappear into cyberspace after they are typed and read by the recipient. They are writings which may later be retrieved, especially in the context of litigation. A good rule of thumb is that, if you wouldn't put it in a letter, you probably shouldn't be putting it in an email.
  3. HEATED DISCUSSIONS VIA EMAIL ARE INEFFECTIVE.
    We have all been in the situation where there is a controversial issue going on in the community and our email in-boxes get flooded with lengthy emails from Board members, managers and homeowners who want to weigh in on the subject. The problem with this is that the individuals are not benefiting from each other's opinions and/or information. This promotes misinformation and words being taken out of context. If an issue is this controversial, it needs to be discussed in a meeting. Just because you may receive a lengthy email from someone on a controversial issue does not mean you have to respond in kind. A short reply whereby you advise the sender to attend the next meeting to address the issue usually suffices. If it requires immediate attention, pick up the phone.
  4. STEP BACK AND RE-READ BEFORE YOU HIT "SEND."
    We have all felt the urge to fire back when receiving emails that are accusatory or otherwise don't sit well with us. Unfortunately, when we type furiously and then hit "send" prior to stepping back, evaluating the situation and proof-reading our response, we all too often make the situation worse instead of diffusing it. When tempted to fire back, make sure that your response is well thought out and refrain from attempting to insert any kind of tone in an email communication.
  5. BE CAREFUL NOT TO FORWARD PRIVILEGED INFORMATION.
    All too often, in a genuine effort to keep the lines of communication open with members, a well-meaning Board member forwards an email to a non-Board member containing advice from legal counsel on an issue. The Board needs to be aware that this practice, even with good intentions, could operate to waive the attorney-client privilege. Board members should be careful to look at the list of recipients when communicating with the Association's attorney via email and make sure that there are no non-Board members that are receiving legal advice meant for the Board.

These are just a few of the more important things to remember when using the best technology of our time - - email!

 

Source: Association Times
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