Yes this is a practical lesson learned. Where to begin?
One of my first awakening moments about how emails can damage your reputation, destroy friendships and cause division, was during my senior year of college. All I can remember is that one of the SGA cabinet members, Hima, was not meeting my approval because of her lack of doing some things that I saw as important. I am vague about this because I honestly can’t remember what she did that made me so mad. I worked as the Lead Cultural Peer for my undergrad’s Cultural and Diversity Center and Interfaith Center. She was something like the Director of Cultural and Diversity Initiatives for the Student Government Association (appointed by the then SGA President, Jordan). All I can remember is that she dropped the ball on several projects that we were to be working on. Which brings me to the email. I actually sent this special email to the SGA President, Jordan, but cced Hima, Patty (my then director of Student Life and mentor), and Darci (our graduate assistant and my co-supervisor). I found the email and well here it goes…
“ Jordan, I am telling you now, if you chose another person like Hima to
be Director of diversity affairs I will come back and protest your
adminstration the entire year, better yet i'll do it from Atlanta!! No
more BS-ing. Hima you know why I said this and Jordan, you know as
well. I think the only one that may be out of the loop is Patty, and
knowing Patty this won't be for long.
Graduating yet Pissed Off Student Leader”
Wow. I shocked myself! Darci, emails me “Breath Michael, Breath” and Patty emails us all wanting to know what was going on and she needed to be brought into the loop. Yeah you got it, I did not even give her any back story, I just included her in my rant. Let’s say, as I read back over this email today, I am stunned by my rudeness, disrespect, and tacklessness. But of course back then, I was justified, I was right, and my response was warranted.
After sending the email, of course, I had to and wanted to meet with Patty. I remember sitting in her office and she reminding me that if I am to be a great leader, then I must learn how to mind my temper and frustrations. She reminded me the ways to get done what you would like by expressing oneself in a positive and effective manner. She held me to a higher standard because I was a leader, I was a Christian, and most importantly she knew me as an advocate for change. Patty knew that many trials would come my way, battles would be won and lost, but if I was not able to keep my cool in the midst of it all, then I would be an ineffective leader. Well, maybe she did not know all of that, but that’s what I garnered from her talk and that is what she taught me.
With all the new technology (cut and paste, and the ability to save webpage’s etc.), I have been more cautious about what I type in emails and say online. This is still remains a constant battle because when I am upset or don’t agree with something or someone, I want them and other to hear and feel my anger within my emails. I want to be sure my viewpoint is clearly stated and understood. But I am learning that more direct communication (face to face) is always the best. And I have learned the importance of writing the email and leaving it overnight until I have a cool head, then coming back editing it or even sending it to a friend to read over before I actually send it. Folks may forget what you say when you speak, but when it is written, it is never forgotten (well, may be deleted, but it surely can come back to haunt you). Even today, because I was able to find this email, shows how immortal emails are.
I'm constantly reminded as I have worked full-time in professional setting of watching emails I send out. Reminded to reread emails before sending them. If I am upset, write the email and step away and then come back later. I have even learned to say simply nothing or to say let’s talk more in person so that our words are not construed on either end.
Just as Patty had the talk with me, I found myself having a similar talk with one of my student employees whose email tone to me was not professional and seeming condescending. Just as I had someone to teach me that lesson, I too give the same to my students, and let’s be honest, I still work on this because when I get mad, oh how my fingers seek action through email writing!
Hima and Jordan, if you ever read this, know that I am sorry. In no way should I have expressed myself in such a manner. I shut down any hopes of dialogue and open communication that could have made for a productive end of the year and a stronger transition for those new leaders who were joining our community. How hurtful and disrespectful was this and for that I do sincerely apologize.
Lesson Learned, Heart-ache Lessened,