I’m a university lecturer teaching a course that is partly online. For the online part, I am in a group with two other lecturers (Jane and Sarah). A major part of this is for each of us to run an online tutorial for a particular course section.
At the start of the course we introduced ourselves by email. Then Jane sends an email saying, “I will do the tutorial on Book 3 and we will all do Book 1”. OK, nice of you to check with us, but it was no skin off my nose. I had Book 2. The first tutorial ran successfully. Jane then starts emailing me and Sarah reminders, which we already get centrally anyway. I ignored them; Sarah told her quite tersely to stop it.
Last Saturday was the day for my tutorial to go up, and I had it all prepared. I go online and there is a message from Jane reminding me that my tutorial is due today and do I need any help? I say no, thank you, I’m about to post it. Jane emails, “Obviously the little chat I’ve posted is completely different.” What little chat is she talking about? I hadn’t seen that on the forum. Time to have a look and get my tutorial up. Except when I go onto the forum, there is a thread called “Book 2 Tutorial”, started by Jane the previous evening. I open it, and find to my disbelief that Jane has posted an online tutorial for my book. Not only that, it’s on the exact part of the book I’d chosen for MY tutorial, and she has also put my and Sarah’s names to it!
After thinking it over, I sent Jane a polite email asking why she had done this without checking or asking permission to use my name, and pointed out that I now had to do a completely new tutorial because of it. I asked her if in future she could please let us both know when she planned to post tutorials, and to keep to her book as agreed to avoid confusion. I kept it light – I assumed she’d been over-eager or just thoughtless. It was annoying because it caused me quite a bit more work, but not worth getting angry about. Sarah emails suggesting we agree some rules just to make sure we don’t have this again. We both suggest her thread stays up, since students will find it helpful.
Except then Jane responds. She sends us a hysterically angry email – she accuses us of being horrible, rigid, inconsistent people who leave her to do everything (not true, I’d say I do more than she does), she has NEVER been ‘told off’ before for trying to do the group a service, it is her job, she is so upset and cannot believe what I’m saying, she can’t understand our problem. I email back, still being polite, saying that Book 2 is my job, not hers, and that using my name without asking before pre-empting my set work is not what we had agreed. I said that all she had to do was ask me what I’d prepared, to avoid me wasting several hours’ work. Her second email is another long, sobbing piece about how horrid we are, she is bewildered at the fuss we’re making, she has taken her thread down and will never post anything ever again and she hopes we’re happy now. I’m reading this in total disbelief that a grown woman is having a tantrum!
Jane then emailed again immediately after that one. We were so wrong and unkind, and had ruined it all for her, but she would go along with our stupid suggestions to keep the peace. I ignored her, but Sarah told her that the tutorial aside, fraudulently using colleagues’ names was not only massively discourteous, it was illegal.
No response from Jane since then. I’ll just pretend this never happened and I don’t know she’s barking, but if she ever tries that again I’ll report her. What she did to start with was wrong but not horrendous, but her reaction! I’ve worked in universities for ten years and I’ve never met anyone quite like that before, thank goodness! 1207-10
This is probably one of those situations when it is better to communicate displeasure about behavior by telephone or in person so that there is no misunderstanding from miscomprehended email messages. Sometimes, no matter how dispassionately we think we are writing, it will still come across as harsh. I am particularly aware of my own tendencies to be very terse in my written communications and it can be perceived as unkind. When it matters that a breach in a relationship be repaired or at least resolved civilly, it’s time to invest in face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication to reduce, as much as possible, the probability of being misunderstood.
Email is great for the transmission of “just the facts” but when it comes to relationship maintenance, the written word can really suck sometimes.