Get Organized

FRANK BUCK: What you need to know about setting email expectations (column)

Sometimes we feel like the victim. People aren't treating us the way they should. In this post, we look at a reader question. It deals with email expectations.

The under-water teacher

I teach 270 band students in grades 6-8. I do an excellent job of emailing home all info preemptively, sending home hard copies, posting on Google Classroom, etc.

My program has grown by over 100 kids in the past few years and I am at the point where I need to have a better system, if at all possible, to handle the influx of emails. What have you done to "train" or "re-train" parents about email expectations? … I am under water with all the emails, and I am also enabling them by responding in a very timely manner, almost within the hour. I check email and respond all day and night, it seems.

Parents need to "ask 3, then me" as much as their kids do. They also need to read our correspondences better. If anyone has any advice on how to handle this particular issue, I would love to hear it! Or this might be a crazy thing for me to try and fix.

My response ...

A long time ago, I learned two things:

1. You teach people how to treat you.

2. People do what's easy. So, set things up so the right thing is the easiest thing.

If you respond to every email individually within the hour, you teach people they can ask you anything and get a detailed answer within the hour. Why should they bother themselves with reading what you send if they can just ask you instead?

Sure, you can't ignore emails altogether. But there's an easy way to handle unnecessary ones. My suggestion is a free extension called "Auto Text Expander for Google Chrome."

Here’s how that would work:

Compose an elegant introduction thanking the parent for the question. Say that their question is covered in the handbook and include the link to the handbook. Compose a really nice closing that assures them if they or their child (hint, hint … get the student in on the act) can’t find the answer in the handbook, to let you know. Type that whole thing into Auto Text Expander one time and assign a two-key shortcut.

Now, every time you get a question and you know the answer is in the handbook, you hit “Reply,” enter your two-key shortcut, and watch the entire response appear. Hit "Send." You’re done.

Compose a second email for things that you told parents in a newsletter. Again, you will compose a polite introduction thanking them for their question. Tell them the topic was covered in a recent newsletter. Provide the link to the newsletter archives. Compose an elegant closing that also thanks the parent. Key that message into Auto Text Expander once and assign a shortcut.

How many parents are going to email back and tell you that after an exhaustive search with "Junior" by their side, they still can't find the answer?

So which is easier?

People do what's easy.

Let's structure the situation so the right thing is the easiest thing. So, which of the following two scenarios is easier?

1. Email the teacher. Wait a day for a response. See that the response is that the answer is in the handbook (or newsletter), have to go and look at the handbook (or newsletter) and see that, yes, indeed, the answer to their question was there as plain as day.

2. Start by looking at the handbook (or newsletter) and answer their own question in less than five minutes.

When the right thing becomes the easiest thing, watch the problem diminish. When people treat you a certain way, it's because it works (for them).

In the words of Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” You get to decide what works for you and what doesn't. Choose wisely.

Frank Buck is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders. "Global Gurus Top 30" named him #1 in the Time Management category for 2019. Dr. Buck speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach him through his website: FrankBuck.org. Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.

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