Monday, November 19, 2012

For Your Eyes Only

Have you ever read the note at the end of an email you receive? Yeah, me neither.  Until my sister pointed it out to me this summer.  Many of them typically say that the email is intended only for the recipient.

How many of us actually follow that? When's the last time you forwarded an email without the sender's permission and/or informing them? Ever blind copy someone in an email? Ever invite a friend or colleague to read an email over your shoulder? We've all done it. 

I've never thought twice about doing this.  Until...

I was in a situation where an adult sent an email to another adult about me. It was on the unflattering side with an accusatory tone. The recipient of the email felt compelled to share it with me and disappointed that I quickly glanced at it.

I was highly uncomfortable reading that email. Not because of the content. But because it was not intended for me. I felt that if the email composer had wanted me to read these comments they would've copied me in the email.  

Some folks believe that when something unkind is written (or spoken) about another person the offended person needs to have that information. I have seen this happen to quite a few teachers.  Emails not written to them (but about them), phone calls made about them (but not to them), or conversations had about them later shared with them.  

But at what cost?  

I have seen teachers cry after being told what was said about them.  Sure, teachers may be expected to have thicker skins, but they are human.  Parent - teacher (or staff - staff) relationships are negatively altered after these situations.  After hearing that a parent (or colleague) was trash-talking you, it is tricky to keep an open mind and have a collaborative relationship.  You are on guard, not trusting what the parent's (or colleague's) words or intentions.  You may begin to behave in ways that are atypical for you, effecting other relationships you have, or altering how you perform your job.  All because someone shared something with you that was not intended for your eyes (or ears).

Isn't this why we tell our students not to tell their friends that someone was talking about them?  To spare potentially hurt feelings?  So as not to fracture other relationships?  Yes, an argument can be made that the relationship is fractured if one party is denigrating another, but how often do people say things out of fear or anger in the moment?  Do we not question a child's intention for wanting to share the abusive comments?  Is it to feel better (unload their burden onto someone else)?  Is it to fracture a relationship?  Is it to hurt the other person?  Is it to see how they'll react? 

It can be a struggle to keep quiet.  But, if the person is not in danger then why share it?  Is it really worth the damage it will cause the other person?  Will you really feel better in the end?