We all use email. A lot of us hate using it, but we still have to use it. And for a lot of us, that is about as much care as we normally put into email; just enough to get the job done.

But email can be a deadly weapon. And not just for other people, your own emails as well could come back to haunt you at some time.

The first thing to remember is that once you send an email, it’s out there. It’s a digital record of your communication. The recipient, the IT department and even a hacker can at any time pick up that email and send it to other people. So if you’ve been spreading gossip about your boss, or arranging secret shopping trips with your colleagues in the afternoon, then there is a chance that your boss might read those emails.

Your boss might be able to read your email, so make sure you are happy for your boss to read any email you send from your company account.

Another thing to remember is that there are some people we only communicate with via email. They might be overseas, or just in another city, so we never phone them or meet face to face. This means that every impression that person has about you has come from your emails.

I’ve seen some people who replaced their email signature with cute pictures of Hello Kitty. For many people, Hello Kitty is cute and girly. It’s something young girls like. And that’s exactly the impression these people are giving; that of a young cute girl. But who do you think is more likely to move ahead in their career, a young cute girl or a professional businesswoman?

I once received an email from someone, who then several minutes later sent me another email with these exact words “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek! I made a mistake!”. Now that doesn’t make me think that person is a bad person or a stupid person, but it certainly doesn’t make me think they are a mature person.

I’ve seen another email that was sent by a front line employee in China directly to the CEO in Europe. In this email they complained directly to the CEO that the business goals set for their office were too high and that there weren’t any good processes in place. Now that might be good feedback, but it should never be presented as a complaint, especially directly to the CEO. The CEO cares about keeping the business alive and growing, and if you complain to them about goals being too high they’re probably not going to be able to lower those goals because that doesn’t help the business. Furthermore, they’re probably going to be very concerned that that office can’t sort things out by themselves.

I could share so many more examples of poor impressions and times people got themselves into trouble by email. But I’m sure you get the point already.

So the next time you sit down to write an email, stop and read it back to yourself and think about the impression your writing is giving the other person. Is this an email you would want your boss to read? Is it giving the impression you want to give? Doing this might even save your career!