Email Politics

Today I sitting with my toes in the sand and my hands full of my 7 month old as he experiences the beach for the first time. This week is heaven. But in between the vacation moments, I do have to return to the real world that looms on my doorstep upon arriving back in Houston. Today, I had a very real experience with the fabulous (and potentially dangerous) power of email. I learned a valuable lesson in the art of “selective cc’ing.” I remember an instance when I wasn’t so selective and the virtual world bit me in the face because of my indiscretion.

Let’s start with the latter issue and work back towards the positive. Picture this: a first-time (part-time) administrator is dealing with a disciplinary issue pertaining to the dress code. This issue, specifically dealing with hair, resulted in a ridiculous plan to “take care of business” at school. In keeping this post short, know that I handled the situation very poorly. One component of this event required an email to the entire group of families whose boys were out of uniform. I wrote them all directly, detailing the activities that had happened and the ensuing school response. Though the school response was the major problem, another concern developed due to the email itself. I admit I was quite new to the “blanket, administrative email world” at the time, and so I sent the same email, all at once using the To: line instead of the Bcc: line! You can imagine the response I received by choosing to use email to contact parents about a disciplinary issue instead of the phone. Further, in sending the email to where everyone could see the people involved (by looking at the address line), I inadvertently created a “dean of students vs. the community” with regard to this issue. After much firefighting and significant help from heads of school, I resolved the issue. However, the wildfire could have been avoided, perhaps altogether, if I had just been smarter about the way I used email communication (though not using it at all would have been best).

Now, onto the good side of email. Yesterday, I sent a message to the registrar, cc’ing the headmaster with regard to my request. The request was simple, and the registrar is a wonderful young lady who is very helpful, so there wasn’t really any tension to the situation. However, I needed to get things moving on converting a classroom to a science lab, and I knew that the registrar wasn’t the actual person to whom I needed to show the email. So the headmaster went on the cc: address line. Well, the plan went by perfectly:

-the registrar responded to everyone, saying that she couldn’t resolve my request.

-the headmaster replied to everyone, saying the he could resolve the request, and that the registrar should assign the room as a science lab.

So because I used the address lines to inform all necessary parties of the issue, and the various parties involved saw the other people who viewed the email (cc: vs. bcc:), the email served its purpose. Everyone was involved in the conversation, and by making a visible inclusion of the headmaster, the issue was handled more efficiently that I imagined. All parties felt valued, and those needing to know the decision were able to act on it ASAP. 

Utilizing the various types of email address lines to make a party known (or unknown) to others in the conversation can go a long way to getting things done in an efficient and timely manner. Thus, the lesson learned here is that it is always a good idea to check your address lines, and to think about how others will view their place in the address line. The outcome of your decision is often twisted by the way people perceive the information rather than your intention. So “email politics” via address lines can go a long way to facilitate change or create support to your cause.

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