When the Tone of an Email Went Wrong
(3 pages of text)
Case (Gen Exp)
A tense situation arose in 2015 after a faculty member at the Premier School of Management in New Delhi, India, mistakenly emailed a test paper to a group email address that included the school’s students, faculty, and alumni. An alumna who received the email responded to the professor using the “reply to all” option. The tone of her email was considered to be disrespectful to the professor. The professor responded by sending his own “reply to all,” explaining his error to the alumna and chastising her for using a tone inappropriate for a student-to-teacher communication. The alumna apologized, but one of the students on the group email then wrote his own offensive email to the alumna. Was there a way to defuse the mounting tension and avoid a possible rift between the alumna and her former school?
While the case is a simple example of how communication can spiral out of control, the issues are multifaceted. The teaching note provides a comprehensive analysis of the situation, offers detailed information about effective communication that can be applied in any business writing situation, and considers the challenges particular to the use of low-information media. This case is suitable for undergraduate or MBA level students in any course on business or corporate communications, or organizational behaviour. After discussing this case, students will be able to
- understand the use of etiquette in business writing, especially when writing email;
- differentiate between low-information media and high-information media;
- understand the challenges faced when using low-information media;
- identify situations when low-information should be avoided; and
- recognize the factors that contribute to the tone of writing and how to improve tone in all written communication.
India, Medium, 2014
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