Inappropriate E-mail


I have seen a lot of books and articles recently about e-mail etiquette. Most of what I have read has focused on response time, formats, copies, blind copies, etc. So, I really dismissed these books and articles as something that I needed. Since then, I have identified perhaps a category that should be added to these books. The category is how to deal with inappropriate e-mail.

I am not referring to e-mail sent by someone you do not know. In those situations, you contact your provider, such as AOL or Bell Atlantic, and let representatives at the company contact the source. What I am referring to is junk that our friends and even family members forward. Often the subject line will read fwd., fwd., and fwd. Then, when you open the document there are two pages of e-mail addresses of people who have already received the forwarded document. At last, you scroll down and see what your friend sent.

After glancing at what was sent, I have asked myself "Does this person really know me?" "Do I really know her?", and "What kind of person does she think I am?" Then, I think about the other hundred or so people receiving the same e-mail with my name and e-mail address listed. I wonder what they may think about me?

A member of my family may enter the room when I am reading my e-mail and say what is that and why did you turn it off so quickly? My spouse is not jealous or suspicious, but if I have to keep sneaking to read and delete e-mail he may begin to wonder about my behavior.

So, what have I done about these e-mails? I have started letting the senders know that I do not share their sense of humor or interest and that I do not want to receive that type of communication in the future. Also, I have explained to all of the people I receive e-mails from how to send blind copies so everyone's e-mail addresses are not shared with an unknown universe of people. There are a couple of people I have had to stop accepting e-mail from, temporarily and long-term, in order for them to get the message. Additionally, I changed my password so my children cannot get on-line without my assistance.

I view this infringement the same as someone telling dirty or racist jokes around me or passing around pictures of nude people. Just because the person passing it on did not create or say it, the fact that they are sharing it carries responsibility. Further, our receiving it and not condemning it also carries a responsibility.

If you have experienced receiving inappropriate e-mail, don't compromise yourself by accepting it and not saying anything. If someone came to your house and verbally said what was contained in the e-mail or showed the same pictures that they had e-mailed to you, I am sure you would have something to say. What's the difference? If there is no difference, take action because you never know what is next.


You can contact Rhonda Owen-Smith directly at

Rhonda Owen-Smith, APR is vice-president of marketing for Urban Asset Management/Urban Marketing. The company specializes in economic development, property management, retail development, research, feasibility studies, and marketing for urban-based companies. Two major company specialties are tourism and the shopping center industry.

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