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Discretion and Email Communications

Discretion, courtesy and email.

I am often asked what my recommendation is to get people to pay attention to their email etiquette and writing skills. For example:

“How can the average user know what is the right thing to do when it comes to their email habits?”

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What happens is that I inevitably end up stating pretty much the same thing. The proper use of technology, and email specifically, is up to each individual’s discretion as to what is suitable or appropriate for any given circumstance.

For example, relationship dynamics and whether the email is personal or for commercial gain can determine how and why you do or don’t do certain things. This requires thought, consideration, and discretion.

To confirm, what we are talking about here is beyond the basics of proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation, which are a no-brainer. Formality, tone, and how to express yourself accurately via the written word are just as necessary.

As far as writing skills, every one of us should work on them continually. Why wouldn’t anyone want to be a better communicator?

Email is here to stay. It behooves every person who uses email and online technology to hone their skills. This approach helps to build relationships and enhance your chances of success.

The definition of discretion is:


  1. the power or right to decide or act according to one’s own judgment; freedom of judgment or choice: It is entirely within my discretion whether I will go or stay.
  2. the quality of being discreet, esp. with reference to one’s own actions or speech; prudence or decorum: Throwing all discretion to the winds, he blurted out the truth.

The online environment has been with us for over two decades, with very few participants having any formal training on proper use and practices. But even after all that time, some still think emails are always an informal “anything goes” tool to use without thought or discretion.

You also see this “anything goes” attitude on social media. People typing what they want to say at the moment, with no regard to being courteous or civil.

Emails sent to me through this site prove that out. Some email me reflecting visceral anger over the content on this site. Who takes the time to scold an email etiquette website?

When this happens, I know they have bigger “issues” than disagreeing with my little email etiquette commentary. To be upset over someone writing about communicating with “knowledge, understanding and courtesy” says more about them than me.

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When using email, you need to make an effort to consider those you are communicating with enough to want to be courteous. You want to make sure that your tone, intent, and meaning are appropriate for the task at hand.

That’s where discretion comes in. You have to choose to make these efforts — to use your discretion. When you don’t make that effort, misunderstandings can ensue, and negative perceptions are created.

The thing is, this site can’t teach discretion. No one can force onliners to use discretion. You have to be willing to take the time and make an effort beyond what you may be willing to do at the moment.

With all the information on my email etiquette websites, I hope that most will discover that they prefer to understand technology—and be someone who makes an effort to use email and technology properly with knowledge, understanding, and courtesy. (And don’t forget about discretion.)

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