Modern Etiquette: Forwarding jokes about the IT support guy

Mon Jun 14, 2010 7:40am EDT
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By Richard Baum

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Q: A colleague is angry because I forwarded an email from her without asking her permission. Was I wrong?

A: Email is fraught with etiquette pitfalls and few are deadlier than the correct use of the forward button. Should you assume it's safe to forward an email unless you're told otherwise? Or should you treat all email on a for-your-eyes-only basis? In some cases it's clear cut.

If someone emails you a joke about the IT support guy, it's safe to assume they don't want you to forward it to the support guy. Clearly an email marked confidential should be handled accordingly.

But what about the rest of your inbox?

Many people take the absolute position that you should never forward anything without permission. They hold that all email should be considered confidential, that the onus is on the receiver to protect the sender from potential embarrassment.

But that view seems to belong to a time when email was still a novelty, a pre-You Tube era when people hadn't yet figured out that jokes about co-workers could easily end up in the co-worker's inbox.

The modern etiquette advisor has no time for such pussy-footing. The increasing volume of email simply makes it impractical to ask permission everything you want to forward something. So go ahead and forward that email. Your company depends on the flow of information between employees to function.

If your correspondent hasn't yet learnt the golden rule about email -- always craft your messages with the understanding that they could be forwarded -- then she's an accident waiting to happen. Forwarding her joke about the IT support guy to the support guy is indefensible, but just might be the wake-up call she needs.   Continued...