Saturday, January 29, 2011

Congratulations! (Reply All)

Is it just me, or do others find the "piling on" of reply-all emails of congratulations within their organization a bit annoying?

When someone in our college is recognized in an email announcement (originating from any faculty member in the college) as achieving something newsworthy, inevitably five or ten or even more emails will be sent to everybody with some variaton of "congratulations...we're all proud of you and you make us look great to the world." I'm really glad that we have a faculty that feels happy and thankful when one of our own does something that we all aspire to. (For example, recently, Donna Ogle was elected president of the Reading Hall of Fame and Tim Collins was elected to the TESOL board).

Of course we all feel the urge to offer our congratulations to the person. If we were sitting in the same room when the announcement was made, we'd all cheer and maybe later offer a congratulatory hug or handshake to the honoree. But would a queue of us get up to, one after the other, to offer our personal congratulations, perhaps combined with some reference to how this honor benefits all of us?

What is the purpose of "replying all" to these messages? Is the congratulator trying to get themselves noticed? Is it just laziness? Or is there a commendable reason for this?

I've noticed it tends to be the more senior members of our faculty who do this. Perhaps they hold dear in their hearts the days when the college had 30 faculty members on one campus, and feel that they're recreating that old community feeling? I kinda wish we had that feeling more now, but we have 170 full-time faculty now, on 7 or 8 campuses.

I've been tempted to write to everyone and urge them to ask themselves whether replying all is necessary in any individual case, but I don't want to be seen as a buzz-killer. My own view is that IFF your reply adds some information or substance of value to the majority of the faculty, replying all is justified. But I wonder whether mere piling on without adding tangible value is actually some attempt to put oneself in the limelight for a moment.

I'm uncertain about what's right in this situation. As our faculty ages and retires, maybe the sensibility of the current more junior faculty that email (especially reply all) is for business only (which includes discussion of issues of importance to us all) will become more common. But...Part of me worries...will we then lose something important that the more senior faculty members are trying to preserve?

I welcome comments. That is, if they're substantive. :-)
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.6


Elizabeth said...

I think it's sweet. Say they're in a banquet room: I picture the senior faculty who do this as doing something similar to standing and making a toast. And the more junior people who send congratulations privately (hitting "reply" as opposed to "reply all") are then making eye contact with the honoree as they clap or raise their glass or do a thumbs-up type gesture. People who do read the e-mail and don't reply at all just clap. The social-performative responsibilities of people with various degrees of power and visibility are indeed slightly different in any organization, and I think the e-mail congratulatory customs you're talking about mirror what would happen in a physical room rather well. (Which is not to say they would not annoy you in real life just as much .)

Craig A. Cunningham said...

Nice comment, Elizabeth! Thanks.

But is our college-wide faculty listserve more like a banquet hsll or a bulletin board?

Elizabeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth said...

Ah! That is a very good question, and interesting. I am thinking about it more now: because of the fact that our lives are now scattered and half-virtual, and we are on many campuses, etc., it actually needs to be more like a banquet hall, or else maybe nothing will be like a banquet hall.

Coming from another side (not from what it needs to be, but from what it seems to be in actuality) I think for the elders who can remember traditional university banquet halls (I myself sadly have more of a media knowledge of them) they have (perhaps unwittingly) made it thus. It was so easy for me to picture the transposition in custom from what people do on e-mail to what they might have done in a banquet hall.

But in order for me to picture the same customs ethnographically as a bulletin board, the world has to have gotten just a wee bit more different. (Senior faculty with monogrammed sticky notes adding words of congratulations to wall-posters of people's accomplishments? Junior faculty then taking an odd private pic of this with their iPhones to send to the honoree with a smiley emoticon?)

My conclusion is that for our institution at least, the e-mail space is more like a banquet hall, and long may this live. The mores and odd habits of a community can be a little annoying at the edges, at times, but I still say community is better than the alternative(s).

Craig A. Cunningham said...


Elizabeth J. Grace said...

Yes, Craig?