My heart skips a beat. Tiny
beads of sweat appear on my forehead. I use "colorful language" to express my
dismay. And, although I frantically
pound the delete button on my keyboard, I can't retrieve the unedited or
misdirected or possibly inappropriate e-mail message I just sent.
The topic of problematic
e-mails came up during a workshop I attended recently. Our facilitator shared an article he read in
which Sundar Pichai, a Google vice president explained why the new Chrome OS-based netbook keyboards don't include the Caps Lock button at all: to increase civility by reducing the
electronic shouting that comes from writing in all caps¹.
As a former English major, I don't think I could give up on capital letters,
but there certainly are days when I wish the Send button on my keyboard was
missing. Over the years, I've sent my
share of e-mail bloopers. For the most
part, though, I am a particularly Mindful Sender when it comes to e-mails. That trait, like most, is both a gift and a
curse. Students who want lightning fast
responses from me are often disappointed, and my co-workers often have to
listen to me complain about the full status of my inbox. Right now, however, I'm thinking about the
gifts of being a Mindful Sender.
When I compose a message, especially one intended for a person I've
never met, I'm very aware that the message really is me in a way. It
creates the first impression the recipient has of me; it sets the tone for our
future interactions; it illustrates my knowledge or competence. Much like a cover
letter says a lot about the person behind it--a simple e-mail message can be
Consider the following e-mail:
I just wanted to know when your walk-ins are.
really need to see you because I schedule tomorrow
and I want to make sure I schedule the right classes.
I have to take STAT 200?
This e-mail is short and pretty straightforward, right? But let's compare it to this message:
about STAT 200
Katelyn: I saw that you have walk-ins on
Thursday from 1-4pm, and
wanted to let you know that I will be stopping by. I can register for classes
week, and I'd like to talk about what I plan to take next semester. I have
pretty good plan mapped out, but I'm not sure about STAT 200. Do I have to
Thanks! I'll see you on Thursday to talk about
How many aspects of this second message are awesome in terms of what
they reveal about the writer? Let me
count the ways...
- The student used a more professional salutation
in this message ("Hi, Katelyn,") which is much nicer than the original,
- The writer used her Penn State e-mail
address AND she included her
Penn State ID number. For the adviser on the receiving end of this message, these two items are
golden, as they make it possible to correctly identify the sender and to,
therefore, appropriately assess her question.
- Advisers' walk-in hours are listed in
multiple places on-line. The writer
of this message clearly demonstrated her resourcefulness in taking the
time to find that information.
- The student illustrated her time
management skills in contacting her adviser a week before she needed to
schedule courses. Furthermore, her
message includes a concise question about STAT 200 that can realistically
be answered via e-mail.
Admittedly, I don't analyze every e-mail message I receive. But I can tell you that a message like the second
one would stand out to me because of the sender's attention to detail, professionalism,
and time management skills.
Not long ago, a student and I met to talk about an offensive e-mail he
sent--in a moment of frustration--to a professor.
The gist of it was that he wanted to add the instructor's course. In his mind, having this course was an urgent
matter. He sent two inquiries to the
instructor, and then when the instructor declined his request, he sent a third,
The offended professor forwarded the student's message to his department
head and to the advising center in his College to complain about the disrespectful
tone of the e-mail. One of the advisers
in the group saw that eLion listed me as the student's adviser and contacted me
about talking to the student. By the time we met, over ten people had seen
In addition to being embarrassed, the student suffered some collateral
damage in terms of his professional reputation because of this e-mail message. It's
easy to think of your professional life as something that starts after you
graduate when you have a job. But that's
a mistake. Your professional identity is
developing now. Your decisions to apply
to college and to attend Penn State are key aspects of your professional self. Your choice of major and your co-curricular
experiences are pieces of this puzzle as well.
Your interactions with others, how you handle yourself and your
experiences at Penn State are also part of your professional development.
My advisee's offensive e-mail consisted of two sentences, but it spoke volumes about him.
In your mind's eye, imagine how the student could have handled the
situation and his e-mail exchanges with the instructor in a more positive,
professional way. He might not have
gotten exactly what he wanted, but I'm sure he--and the instructor--would have
felt much better about how everything played out.
Before you hit the "Send" button, think for a moment. What do your e-mail messages say about you?
Steve. "Google Enters Operating System
Mark with Chrome Os." ArticleSnatch.com, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2012.