E-mail impoliteness dilemma
Call me old-fashioned, but I find it disappointing and disturbing when I receive a student e-mail without the customary expressions of politeness. Any request not accompanied by the words “please” and “thank you” creates an unpleasant resonance in my mind’s ear.
Here is a case in point from an actual student e-mail: “Let me know if you have any other ideas, [student first name]”
To be fair, I receive such e-mails very infrequently–in general, I am quite impressed with our students’ etiquette and social graces. That’s why I find those infrequent displays of a lack of civility so upsetting. Every time such an unfortunate event happens, I am faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, I am not that student’s parent, and it is not my responsibility to educate the student on the conventions of proper e-mail communication. On the other hand, I realize that once in the real world, such a communication style may hinder the student’s professional career.
Prior to grad school, I worked in industry for several years. Therefore, I am familiar with professional environments both in industry and academia, and I can attest that the issues of politeness and grace in business communication are of paramount importance. I also realize that someone utterly civil and polite in face-to-face interactions may not realize the importance of adhering to the same principles in e-mail communication.
I usually try to lead by example and reply with punctuated politeness, hoping to convey my point this way. Interestingly, the strategy works well in the majority of cases. At the same time, I wonder if by not confronting the problem up front, I may be hurting the student’s long term chances of success. I could definitely use some advice on the matter.