Saturday, October 25, 2008

Professionalism and rudeness in email

A pop quiz. [Edited to add: Actually, this is a poll. I really would like to know what y'all do in these situations.]

1. If you receive an email from someone that is not abusive but is gratuitously rude and snarky, and it's an email that you have to answer for various reasons, what do you do?

a. Ignore the rudeness and answer professionally anyway.
b. Address the rudeness in person.
c. Say something about the rudeness in the email itself.
d. I don't care if it's from Bill Gates offering me a million dollars or the university president himself; I don't answer rude emails.

2. If you receive an email like this, what do you say to yourself?

a. "X may be having a bad day, or maybe her feelings were hurt by some unrelated incident, which is why she sent the rude email."
b. "Oh, Y always acts like that; it's just his way of expressing himself."
c. "Who cares about the rudeness? The content has to be answered."
d. "Who cares whether X was having a bad day or if Y is always a rude so-and-so? Writing rude emails is unprofessional."

3. What about abusive emails?

a. Ignore the abuse and address the issue, if there is one in the message.
b. Respond to the issue and make it clear that you won't tolerate the abuse by talking to the person face to face.
c. Respond professionally, but copy your department chair or someone else so as to leave a record of the conversation.
d. Put the person in your killfile and refuse to deal with him or her.

Let's just say inquiring minds want to know.

8 comments:

JustMe said...

here are my answers. though i should say i am sometimes too nice when dealing with those who have more power than me...
1) a
2) a or b
3) c

Bardiac said...

1) a. If the email's from a student, then I might talk to the student in person about the way the email sounded, because students sometimes need guidance about those things.

2) d. Except there's usually cussing involved.

3) c. Except I'd take it higher than the department chair, because the one time I was nastily harrassed, the department chair's response was BS.

Jason said...

I'm confused--where is the option for self-blaming ("I'm sure the rudeness is actually deserved--I am in fact a bad person . . . after all, I've driven this person to rudeness")?

That's usually my choice.

undine said...

justme, I'm with you on 1 & 3, although I've been known to killfile people after an abusive exchange.

bardiac, cussing (if it were directed at me) tips the email from rude to abusive. I agree about the students, since sometimes they don't get the whole thing about tone.

jason, that's a good point about self-blaming. I do that on a lot of things, but email (happily) isn't one of them.

In looing at the responses of people IRL, I'm sort of surprised to see that almost everyone ignores the rudeness. It's as though they'd received a big stinky dead fish wrapped up in newspaper and chosen to focus on "Oh, look what Obama and McCain are doing today."

undine said...

That is, they read the newspaper headlines and ignore the dead fish.

The Bittersweet Girl said...

Yeah, I'm of the "ignore the tone, reply to the content, and steam internally for months" school of passive agressivity. Not advising, just saying.

Professor Zero said...

c. Respond professionally, but copy your department chair or someone else so as to leave a record of the conversation.

I do this whether it's abusive or not. I tend not to see abuse as such - tend to feel like Jason - so I am now careful.

undine said...

bittersweet girl, I have to do that sometimes, but it doesn't make me happy. No, not at all happy.

Professor Z, I think that not seeing snarky, passive-aggressive behavior for what it was has sensitized me to it, so I don't want to overreact these days when I do see it. There's a particular kind of passive-aggressive nitpicky snarkiness that seems the particular property of academics.