Talking Back

cubicle cartoonA few years ago, I was teaching English at Shepherd University. And the adjunct instructors were consigned to a dungeon. Six dank cubicles in the basement were supposed to serve for more than two dozen professors. It was a little tight.

So one day I’m working at my desk, and an unsavory young man came in to speak with my cell mate. Let’s call them Tom and Jerry.

Jerry is a former student of mine. I must admit, we parted poorly. He was absent a few times, he came to class unprepared, and when I spoke to him about my concerns, he mouthed off, threw chalk, and stomped out of the room. The school took that behavior seriously. He was disciplined by the registrar, and he decided not to return to class. It was an unfortunate handling of the situation all around, and I regret that it turned so sour so soon. But that was his decision, not mine.

And now he’s in Professor Tom’s class and he’s come for some advice, sitting legs splayed apart about 2 feet away from my chair. Can you say awkward?

After a few minutes, I finish grading the papers at my desk, and I take my work to the one computer we are all sharing at the other end of the office. This means I walk towards the exit, around the cubicles, on carpeted flooring, and am now directly across the aisle from Professor Tom and his BFF Jerry.

The moment I log in, Jerry says, do you know that professor? And my stomach turns.

I have no desire to hear this conversation. Especially because Professor Tom is new. I don’t know him. And he doesn’t know me. This is not how I care to be introduced.

Jerry continues, she had me kicked out of her class. And despite the fact that my blood is ice cold, I’ve turned my head just slightly. Maybe I do want to hear this. It would be interesting to know how Jerry perceived the situation. And that’s when I made my decision.

In my teacher voice, with full projection and clearly articulated, I say, that professor is still in the room. And if you’re going to continue this conversation, you might want to do so in the hallway, where she can’t hear what you’re about to say.

Because I decided a long time ago that I would never say anything about someone behind their back that I wasn’t willing to say to their face. So maybe I shouldn’t listen to anything someone’s saying about me without them knowing they’re saying it.

We’ve been hearing an awful lot about the loss of privacy. And you would think that in today’s society, it would be nearly impossible to say something about a person without it getting back around to them. But there’s one area of communication where it’s still possible to do exactly that.
And that’s the blind carbon copy.blind carbon copy

When we send an email and we bcc someone, we’re letting them in on our conversation. And my question is, why?

If you want your colleagues to know that a matter has been resolved, cc them. If your colleagues are so important that their email addresses cannot be revealed, bcc them and add a note in your email stating that you’re doing so.

But to bcc them without the other party’s knowledge – well, what would you have thought of me if I had listened to Jerry? Right.

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