Email 202(a): A Critical Last Step

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it”

–William Arthur Ward

Speaking of gift giving….

Imagine you’re attending your best friend’s birthday party, which you’ve been looking forward to all week. You spent the entire morning shopping for and wrapping what you thought was the perfect gift. It’s finally time for your best friend to open her gifts. After opening yours, she offers a blank stare, turns around, and walks away without saying a word. Everyone starts laughing and the tears begin to well up in your eyes.

When you bought the gift, you considered the possibility that your best friend might not like it as much as you do, and you requested a gift receipt in case she wanted to exchange it for a different size, color, or style. But you never ever considered the possibility that your best friend might behave in such a rude and ungrateful manner. Not only did she neglect to thank you, she left you hanging–dismissed–in front of your closest friends.

After blotting your tears with the edge of your kimono, you begin to wonder what what went wrong. Did she love it or hate it? Did she already own three just like it? You would have realized as much, given the number of times you had raided her closet. Next, you begin to wonder if she even realized it was from you. Could you have forgotten to sign the card? Still, she knows your handwriting; you’ve been friends since 6th grade.

Then, your mind shifts to the unthinkable. You begin to wonder whether your friendship is in trouble. Did you do something to upset or offend her? If so, what could it possibly be? You think back to your most recent girls’ night out; you had a blast and everything seemed great. Uh oh! Could your best friend have suddenly and unexpectedly morphed into Rachael McAdams’ character in Mean Girls?  Not a chance!

Finally, your alarm clock goes off. You wake up and realize it was nothing more than a bad dream. What a relief!  You recall being tired after your shopping trip, and deciding to take a nap to help you conserve your energy for the festivities–swimming, dancing, eating, and socializing. Now, it’s time to get up, put on your cutest summer outfit, and master that fishtail braid you’ve been practicing for the last couple weeks.

Before getting up, you take a moment to reflect. You’d never want to make anyone feel the way you did in your dream–hurt and unappreciated. You vow to always say thank you whenever someone gives you something or helps you in some way. You think about the time your tennis coach gave you a trophy for being the most valuable player, and the times one of your friends or classmates gave you a gift, offered to share their dessert, or bought the next round of coffee during a late-night study group meeting. In each of these instances, you distinctly remember saying thank you.

But what you fail to consider are all the times someone has helped you via email.

For example, there was that time you were having a total meltdown because you were about to miss your online midterm for PSYC 315, one of the required courses for your major. You were stranded on a busy freeway waiting for AAA to bring you a new tire after one of yours suffered a frightening blowout. You emailed the professor, Dr. Freud, explained the situation, and requested an extension. She replied, “I’d be glad to extend the online midterm by two hours. Please stay safe!”

Your response? Crickets, of course!

There was also that time you desperately needed help with math. You were on the verge of tears because you had already reviewed your class notes, looked at the examples in the textbook, and asked your boyfriend for help. You emailed your advisor, explained your frustration, and asked whether you should drop the course. Your advisor replied, “Sorry you’re having such a tough time with math. You’re not alone! Before dropping, try the free math tutoring in the library and/or attend your professor’s office hours.”

Your response? Once again, nothing but crickets!

As an instructor and program coordinator at a medium-size university, I help hundreds of students each semester. And like most faculty and staff, I am increasingly dismayed by the failure of some students–but certainly not all students–to express gratitude for the help and support I so generously provide. Sure, I’m being paid to provide that help and support, but as a human being, I also want to feel helpful and appreciated.

With this in mind, I would like to stress the importance of thanking faculty and staff for their help and support–whether in person or via written communication. Without that help and support, university life would be ever so bleak: meltdowns would be off the charts, despair would reach epic proportions, many students would give up, and the four-year graduation rate would quickly plummet into the single digits.

Start today with a simple “thank you.” But stay tuned for detailed examples in my future post, Email 202(b): A Critical Last Step.

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