Kirby Delauter – Don’t Use My Name


One of numerous memes ridiculing Kirby DelauterIn our continuing discussion about improving email and other digital communications, we had to share how one locally elected official’s Facebook rant made him a top-trending topic and punching bag on Twitter; a source of numerous memes, like the one here, and the subject of unflattering coverage in media around the country.

Kirby Delauter, a Frederick County, MD councilman, told  Frederick News-Post reporter Bethany Rodgers, in a Facebook exchange, that she was not authorized to even use his name in her news accounts. If she continued to do so, he threatened to sue her.

Obviously, an elected official cannot sue over the use of his name, nor does any reporter need authorization to use the official’s name in a story. So now, Delauter is trying to recover with an apology that his threat was “wrong and inappropriate.” .

Noteworthy in his apology is his admission that he has “fired off my share of angry emails, which in hindsight I wished I hadn’t. I can’t think of one that had a positive effect.” He did even worse than that in this case. He posted his message on Facebook where it could be widely seen. An email, at least, couldn’t be re-posted — unless the reporter had chosen to share it.

Delauter also said he thought he had “long ago learned the lesson of waiting 24 hours” before hitting the send key but “apparently I didn’t learn that lesson as well as I should have.”

What he has learned is that he can’t stop a reporter from using his name. And we hope he has learned that he can avoid further damage to his reputation by using a “cooling off” period and following some of the other steps we’ve recommended in previous posts on email etiquette.

As a footnote, please see the Frederick News-Post editorial on the councilman’s original comments. It’s one of the best we’ve seen.

Sony Hack Attack, Part 2: More Ways to Avoid Damaging Communications


Email hacking Our recent post on the Sony hack attack generated a great deal of comment on LinkedIn, mostly from people who agreed that email should be treated more carefully. Most agreed with our contention that that “all communications should be professional. Being derisive, racist or sexist in comments not only opens us to litigation and damaging publicity – it’s just wrong.”

Commentators also provided some great ideas on avoiding private thoughts and conversations becoming public. Here is some of what they had to say:

Mel Hopkins, a storyteller and former broadcast journalist, says the one thing she learned as a broadcast journalist is your “mic is always hot.”

“It was that lesson that allowed for me to not so much safeguard what I say (or write for that matter) but rather (to) check the source of my contempt within and correct it,” she wrote. “Maybe that might be the first lesson in effective business communication. After all, we are adults.”

Paul Busch, who describes himself as an experienced sales and operations executive, says employees should realize that “email is a company resource and all materials are subject to review, sometimes by people that you think will never see what you are writing…Commonsense could have saved Sony some embarrassment, with or without the data breach.

Our friend, Steven J. Ibarra, JD, an executive consultant, said he always trained his students to “assume you are being photographed (or) recorded….there is no such thing as confidential communications, and to always assume you are talking to law enforcement.”

This is great advice, especially with everyone carrying a camera and tape recorder on their mobile devices. The proliferation of cameras has become an issue in sports clubs’ and other facilities’ dressing rooms, where privacy can easily be violated. With mobile devices nearby, private conversations also are easily recorded.

Chris Brooks, IT chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle, warns that the “expectation of privacy is always going to be in question across the electronic mediums.” He also notes that “even phone calls are subject to monitoring.”

Cell phones, on which we increasingly rely, are notoriously vulnerable to hackers who can intercept and record conversations. As you may recall, phone-hacking scandals plagued the royal family and many others in Britain in the 1990s and early 2000s. The News of the World newspaper folded amid the controversy surrounding its role in hacking the phones of celebrities, politicians and crime victims.

Many commentators decried Sony’s lack of proper encryption and security on its email system – a topic the media has explored in some depth. Large corporations around the country and the world undoubtedly are re-examining their security protocols. So should employees. How many of us are truly good about changing passwords frequently and using unique passwords for each site or email account – if our company doesn’t force us to do so?

Updating passwords and avoiding the obvious ones helps avoid hacking. Deleting defunct email accounts also will avoid the embarrassment of reaching out to friends to urge them not to open files sent by hackers from an old email account.

Patrick Rardin, of Eagle Feather Enterprises, Inc., had the best new tip for managing email. He said that many email programs offer a delayed sending option for all outbound email. He has his set for a four-minute delay, and he says that delay “has saved me a lot! Additionally if your email message is heated in any way, save it to drafts and let it ‘rest’ as oftentimes a night’s sleep may change your reaction.”

We recently posted six commonsense rules for email that provides other email tips as well. Do you have any additional thoughts on how to guard against communications that can embarrass or harm your business and/or brand?

Lessons from Sony’s Hacked Emails


Avoiding e-mail snafus

The revelation of racially insensitive comments in emails written by Sony Pictures Entertainment co-Chair Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin provide another lesson in what not to do with our most frequently used form of communication.

Their comments, suggesting President Obama would only like African American-focused movies, came to light because of a cyberattack on Sony. While most of us will never be the subject of a cyberattack, litigation and email snafus can easily expose our innermost thoughts, tasteless jokes and other ill-advised comments to the very people we would never wish to see them.

With auto-completer, it’s easy to accidentally send an email to the wrong person. Email recipients also can forward – either accidentally or on purpose – an email to others who may find the original emailed comments offensive or demeaning in some way. Litigation or complaints filed by a subordinate or employee can require disclosure of emails. The emails of public employees and contractors for public entities can be made public through reporters’ and others’ freedom of information or public records requests. In these cases, deleted emails may even be retrieved.

We’ve provided six commonsense rules for email in a previous post, so we won’t revisit those. But the media firestorm surrounding Pascal’s and Rudin’s emails remind us all – once again – that all communications should be professional. Being derisive, racist or sexist in comments not only opens us to litigation and damaging publicity – it’s just wrong.

Even with the most professional of approaches, we can still make errors or simply convey the wrong tone. Here are three easy tips to avoid such email snafus:

Re-read the email with the recipients in mind: Reading the email’s contents before sending the email and trying to put yourself in the position of the recipients will help gauge how the contents and wording will be received by them. If the email is especially sensitive or you’re still concerned about the contents, asking a colleague or friend to read it will provide the outside eye that may be needed to fully assess the potential impact of the language used.

Enter the email address last: This helps avoid sending the email prematurely. It also helps ensure the promised attachments are indeed attached.

Use the phone: Even with emoticons, jokes can often fall flat in print. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Pick up a phone if you wish to make a quip to someone or say something you wouldn’t want others to see in print. Pascal and Rudin claimed they were joking in their exchanges. Both have apologized, but speculation is swirling that Pascal’s days are numbered at Sony.

Six Commonsense Tips for Avoiding Email Contretemps


California Public Utilities Commission President (PUC) Michael Peevey’s  announcement yesterday that he would not seek another six-year term in the job was not a surprise after emails revealed a cozy relationship with at least one of the companies, PG&E, he’s charged with regulating.

Peevey had withstood his critics’ charges in the past, but the emails detailing a 2010 conversation with PG&E executives during dinner in Peevey’s home left him with no option but to announce his retirement now—rather than on Oct. 16, as he said he had planned to do. PG&E released the emails along with an announcement that it is under federal investigation for its relationship with the PUC. This email contretemps can be instructive for all who do business in the public or in publicly traded companies.

Emails, text messages and other forms of electronic communications are too often treated cavalierly, with little regard for the ramifications they may have either inside or outside the company. From failed attempts at humor to potentially criminal comments, emails and text messages can cause fallout far beyond the intended recipients.

Following are sixEmail in haste, repent in leisure? commonsense tips for avoiding crimes, misdemeanors and – the more common – misunderstandings caused by electronic communications.

  1. The Front Page Rule

It’s a little old-fashioned to talk about newspapers’ front pages, but it’s a simple way to remember a rule that still works:  Don’t do something you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of your hometown newspaper.

In Peevey’s case, he failed the front-page test by having an intimate dinner at his seaside home with executives from PG&E, which is regulated by the PUC. But what put the dinner on the front page were the email descriptions of his comments: They said Peevey suggested PG&E donate $1 million to defeat an initiative the PUC opposed and that he expected PG&E and other utilities to give $100,000 each to finance a 100th anniversary celebration for the PUC.

Increasingly, emails are an essential part of any criminal or civil investigation or litigation. Envisioning how a prosecutor or a competitor might use those emails in a court of law will help avoid writing something that could become an embarrassment or a criminal or civil liability.

  1. Be Courteous and Thoughtful

Rarely does an email or text rise to the level of criminal or civil investigation. But they can certainly lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings in the workplace.

Thoughtlessly dashing off an email or text can trigger fallout far beyond the intended recipient. Among the more common failures is using the wrong tone. Such simple, old-fashioned words as “please” and “thank you” will help. Using proper salutations also indicates a more thoughtful approach. Re-reading the email before distributing it, out loud if possible to envision how the recipients will view it, will help ensure the communication hits the right tone. Considering that it might be forwarded to someone else also will help avoid critical remarks that might sting if it is forwarded.

  1. CC Appropriately

On major and often minor undertakings, there is a list of people who should – or feel they should – be included in any decision or communications regarding that decision.

Recognizing who should and should not be included on the cc line of an email is essential to effectively communicating within an organization and can be one of the biggest challenges.  Likewise, stopping to think before hitting “reply all” will help avoid annoying co-workers who don’t need to know each response to the email’s originator.

  1. Be Timely

At the same time thoughtfulness is required, so is timeliness. Failure to respond in a timely fashion to an email can send a signal that the sender is not important. Unfortunately, today’s mobile devices often mean responses can be expected on weekends, nights and holidays. Understanding the expectations in the workplace for response times is essential to successful communications. Setting “out of office” outgoing messages, even when the period of time away is relatively short, can also help avoid misunderstandings.

  1. Know which Communications to Use

Texting is increasingly the choice for short and quick messages. But different people and generations view texting differently. Moreover, some data plans don’t accommodate a large amount of texting, so a text may cost the recipient additional fees.

Asking if it’s okay to text someone is a good first step. Moreover, knowing with whom and when to use text or email will help make communications successful.

  1. Meet in Person

Face-to-face meetings remain the best, but probably least used, form of communication in today’s fast-paced workplace. Facial expressions and body language give clear signals about how a message is received. At the least, hearing the tone of a person’s actual voice over a phone will help gauge the response. Such personal communications can quickly clear up misunderstandings and, in most cases, avoid your words coming back to haunt you on the front page of the newspaper.

What other recommendations would you have for better digital communications?