Sunday, May 09, 2010


It happens all the time at work: Rather than talk directly to someone, you hide behind your e-mail and fire off an indignant broadside, calling out someone for some perceived wrong to your professional self. All too often, however, the exchange escalates. The recipient insists that you have your information wrong and demands an apology, which in turn leads you to call the recipient "petulant," among other things.
Is it ethical to use e-mail to express ideas - and especially attitudes - that you would be reluctant to express in person? Or should e-mail be limited to the expression of ideas and attitudes that you'd be comfortable conveying face-to-face?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at

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Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th floor, New York, N.Y. 10018.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

M. Lawrence said...

This isn't about ethics - it's about manners. It's just easier for people to be unmannerly when they have a layer of technology or anonymity (or both) between themselves and the recepient.