Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Dangers of Blogging (and e-mails, and letters, and talking, and . . .)

There was a good article in the Baltimore Sun recently entitled "Caution: Blogging Can Get You Fired" that re-appeared a few days later in my local Mississippi paper, the Clarion-Ledger. In the article, reporter Amy Rosewater discusses in a cogent and well-organized fashion how blogging can get an employee in trouble. Say bad things about your employer, the article says, and you can be in big trouble. Even fired. That's good advice, especially for people like lawyers who often work for firms or companies that value privacy and don't take well to internal dissent.

That being said, this piece bothers me. Every time I read articles like this I think, "Are people really that dense?" (The bloggers, that is. Not Rosewater.)

I mean, come on, folks! If you post under your real name (or an easily unmasked nom de plume), what's the difference between that and sending an e-mail? Or a letter? Or talking behind people's backs and being overhead?

The answer: there is no difference in kind, only a difference in degree. A furtive conversation at work is likely to be overhead by only a few people, whereas a blog has a potential audience of millions. Or billions, at least theoretically. But the basic fact remains: they are your words, you said them, and now they are out there. The way to keep something private is to not tell others, and that should be obvious.

So honestly, I just don't understand. Or maybe I do. Maybe people think the medium involved makes a difference, even though that makes no sense. Maybe no one's mama (or daddy--let's be politically correct) ever says anymore, "If you can't say something nice, then don't say/write/e-mail/text message/blog anything at all."

So here are my workplace rules of thumb for communicating your thoughts. I developed these tried and true methods under fire in the practice of law, and I think they work. And they help avoid a lot of stress and unnecessary controversy.

Rule #1: If you say it, you say it. It does not matter if it is in a meeting, letter, e-mail, telephone conversation, or in a blog or other forum. All discretion and no witty banter makes Jack a dull boy, but Jack just might make partner.

Rule #2: When you break rule #1, admit it to yourself and try again. It's like giving up smoking--you'll have to try several times. And then still mess up. Keep at it.

Rule #3: E-mails = Hardcopy letters. There's a lot of commentary out there about how impersonal e-mail is and how easily it is misconstrued. Is that because e-mail fonts are impersonal or somehow rude? No, it's because people don't think about what they say before they click send. So, draft and revise your important e-mails, just like you do for hardcopy letters. They are called e-mail--ELECTRONIC MAIL--for a reason.

Rule #4: Blogs = Hardcopy letters. The only difference is you are writing to the world. I do not mean you should be boring all the time. Just make sure that whatever you say in your blog, you don't mind anyone reading it. And work to avoid possible misunderstandings. For example, take a look at the top of this post. I took pains to emphasize that I most certainly am not taking the reporter who wrote this article to task. She wrote a good article.

Rule #5: Voicemail messages = Hardcopy letters. You see the pattern. If you have to leave a message and it's a delicate one, then perhaps you shouldn't leave it at all. Just ask the person to call back. But if you absolutely must leave a delicate message, perhaps you should practice a few times first. After all, they are your words.

Rule #6: If you get caught violating any of these rules, standing your ground is better than backing and filling. I'm serious about this. Let's suppose you've been caught redhanded in the hall complaining about a partner behind his back, and the partner walks up and taps you on the shoulder. Or passes by in the hall. What do you do? If he heard, own up to it and explain. You're already in trouble, so don't be a coward too. Show some integrity. Maybe something good will come out of it--like the partner actually addressing your gripe. And certainly, the next time you will think twice before opening your trap in a non-secure environment.

1 comment:

Michael McCann said...

I agree. What do people really expect when they publicly criticize their employer (assuming their employer is a private entity)? Also, I'm struck by the number of non-lawyers who aren't aware that "freedom of speech" generally does not apply to private employers.