Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Electronic Communications

An article in the Chronicle this morning is very apropos to something that I've been witnessing a lot of lately. This semester, my colleagues and I have been the recipients of very uncollegial communications. These have come from primarily faculty and students (at least what I've seen) and not staff. It's difficult to respond to these kinds of messages, riddled as they are with exclamation points and ALL CAPS!!! Part of me wants to start off the response with, "Hello? Do you realize what a jerk you sound like? Maybe you'd like to read this out loud before you hit the send button." But I usually never point out that their message was perceived as condescending or insulting or just plain mean. But perhaps I should. Or maybe I should pick up the phone and say, "Hey I'm responding to your email message. Did you realize that the tone was harsh? It seemed like you were yelling at me. Did you mean for it to sound that way?"

My rule about electronic communications is to act as if you're speaking to the person face-to-face. If you put something in an email, blog post, blog comment, or discussion forum, it should be something you'd also say in a face-to-face conversation.

My favorite part of the Chronicle article is the following scenario:

What's more, people don't seem to consider the consequences of their
bad behavior. I know of a small group of faculty members who waged a
vicious attack on their chairwoman over a decision she made affecting
their area of study. Two weeks later, the group's ring leader
petitioned the chairwoman for her "moral and financial support" of a
new project he wanted to start on the campus.

"I thought I'd entered the twilight zone," she told me. "He acted as
if the attack of a few weeks earlier had never happened and now we were
supposed to become bosom buddies."

I can't tell you how often that's happened to me. I don't feel particularly generous toward someone who yelled at me last week. I'm okay with disagreement and constructive criticism as long as it's done in a civil manner.

I don't necessarily think world civility is at all-time low, but I do think that most people don't take communication skills--spoken, written, or electronic--very seriously. I think electronic mediums actually offer us the opportunity to work on communication skills more carefully--if we don't dismiss those communication media out of hand. What do you all think of the state of communication in academia? How can so many smart people be so bad at this?

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