Email Etiquette Rules for Outraged Parents

Posted by jael on Dec 5, 2010 in Education, Parenting, Spiritual Journey, Technology

A recent rash of semi-hysterical emails that Cc’d all the parents of The Middle Girl’s third grade class prompted my rehearsal of some common sense email etiquette tips for parents.

The trigger email of the series was penned by a well meaning, but emotional Mommy that wanted to understand why her son had become ill three times since October, and thought it might make grand sense if the other parents took their kiddos in for testing whether or not they were symptomatic.  The word “carrier” was used.  Naturally, this prompted enthusiastic responses from both sides of the sick bed.  Parents did not want their own child singled out because they had been ill, while others did not want their child to undergo unnecessary medical procedures.  Each exchange of the series was replied to all.

In all seriousness, before I begin my spoof of the day, Email Etiquette Rules for Outraged Parents, may I sincerely assert that time and research has proved two universal truths about email.  First, it is better to never, ever send an email to any one for any reason when angry.  A cool off period always aids reflection, and flame emails sent cannot be taken back.  There is NO DELETE KEY once that puppy has taken up residence in another account’s doghouse… and then you’re the one in the kennel.  Secondly, it is rarely helpful,  or even advisable to REPLY ALL.  In the vast majority of email communications, your response may be sufficiently rendered directly to the original or most recent sender.  Finally, nothing can understate the fact that EMAIL IS NOT PRIVATE!  Once you send an email, it can be forwarded and/or printed to any party without your knowledge, and certainly without your permission.

That is what happened in this case among The Middle Girl’s class parent community.  Nothing makes genuinely sane and loving people more situationally crazy than the righteous defense of their kids.  You mix the unconditional love of a Mamma Bear protecting her cub with partial information emotionally communicated to twenty other equally fallible parents similarly devoted to the own kids in the same classroom community, and it’s like Kryptonite.  Even Super Man gets the vapors in such a scene.  As a result, good people got mad and hurt.  Reputations were dented and egos were bruised.  It was messy, sad and avoidable.  REPLY ALL is a quick way to SUPER SIZE woe.

So again, I am going to kid soon.  What will follow in Email Etiquette Rules for Outraged Parents is PARODY.  I am sincere, however, when I testify email can be a communication tool that can bite back bigger bitter than a rabid badger.   You know that old woodworker adage, “Measure twice, cut once?”  I think email’s version is “Read twice, send once, and if angry, don’t send at all.”

On a lighter note, time to infuse some levity into this whole scene, so, as promised:

Email Etiquette Rules for Outraged Parents

1. Don’t send anything you don’t want Xeroxed 1000 times and stuck under every windshield of your child’s school parking lot.  (Faculty AND student.)

2. Avoid using REPLY ALL option.  Think about it, do you really want to scream in stereo?  Every email sent to school stakeholders adds or detracts from your family brand at that school.  You don’t want IRREGULAR as your family label!

3. Less is always more when you are angry.  Use as few words as possible.  Avoid profanity.  Profanity never translates in email and you can’t help your kids if you come across like a drunk that tossed too many at your first cousin’s open bar karaoke night .

4. Speaking of imbibing… don’t drink and email.  No good can come of it.  1-95 has signs warning against Intextication on billboards.  You cannot offer good tips to your kid’s school when tipsy.

5. Write in a clear and non-threatening manner.  You can’t help your kid if you’re in the local lockup or subject to a restraining order.  State your point briefly, clearly and as positively as possible.  See Rule #3.  Less is Always More.

6. Remember that emails may be forwarded without your knowledge or consent.  This is a literal as well as a figurative transfer.  Write email in such a way that the reader will not forward his response all over the head, psyche, grade or freedom of your kid.  If there is any possibility that what you wrote in your email can do more harm to your kid, don’t, for the love of .com, send it!

7. Don’t forward hoaxes.  If you don’t know or cannot prove the assertions of your text, do not transmit them to a stakeholder in your child’s school community.  It just makes you look a little hysterical and a lot ignorant.  Email is not talk radio, people, it’s not anonymously phoning in and getting it all off your chest time, it’s on the record and it has teeth that can bite back.

8. DON”T SHOUT.  In email, writing in all caps is considered shouting.  If you feel the need to hit the all caps key as you compose an email, this is like a Star Trek moment on the bridge, RED ALERT!  This is an email you probably should not send at all, and certainly not without a 12-24 hour cooling off period.

9. By all means, PHONE A FRIEND.  Get a tone check from a spouse or trusted friend.  Make it an accountability partnership.  Promise each other that you are going to act as one another’s SPAM filters.  Make a commitment to each other that you will honestly tell each other if your email makes you sound like a flaming ass.  That’s what friends do!  We tell each other when we’ve got lipstick on our teeth.  No one wants to look like an ass or have red delicious canines.

10. Cool off, cool down and walk away.  Flame emails usually hurt people.  Set a time limit you will honor for all emotional emails, 12 hours-one week.  Abraham Lincoln did this with letters.  He put letters aside in his desk drawer and rarely sent letters that communicated anger or criticism.  His legendary honesty was balanced by judgment.  Remember that it is difficult for people to be on your kid’s side if they are pissed at you as a parent.

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I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
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Hallelujah, Hallelujah!

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