Think Twice Before Pressing the “Send” Button to Send an Email to Professor Galloway

Like most people, I look at my e-mail box several times a day and answer my emails by order of priority. I am generally efficient as I classify my emails according to methods shown in best-seller books such as the “Hamster Revolution”. However, every once in a while I receive one of these impersonal emails addressed to me from individuals that ask my benevolence without offering any gratitude about who I am. My answer to these emails is generally inexistent as I politely press the “delete” button to clear my mailbox. However, I constantly ask myself, what makes these people think that I would take my time to help them when they are not even able to take a second to mention my name in the email they just sent me. In other words, why do these people press the damn “send” button that would email their spamming message to a whole bunch of innocent recipients? It seems like anonymity or some sense of anonymity has made some individuals think that they could spam the whole webosphere. However, some might say, but Jean-Francois, where are you going with that boring story that doesn’t seem related to marketing at all? The answer is in the next paragraph.

Sometimes I would wish that button would exist
Sometimes I would wish that button would exist

A little story to make you think about that “send” button

A few weeks ago, a student entered, with an hour late, the first class of the “Brand Management” MBA-class taught by Professor Scott Galloway at New York University (NYU). Professor Galloway, who is the former president of Red Envelope and also an ex-member of the board of directors of the New York Times is well-known for his arrogance but also his fairness and crispy examples. Professor Galloway (politely) asked the student to comeback on next class, since he was late and that according to the course outline, being more then 15 minutes late was not accepted in his class. The student left the class, but email Professor Galloway a few hours later to explain him that he was not agreeing with his behaviour. However, Professor Galloway answered the student’s email with an “in-your-face” ironic email as a response and decided to send it to every other student registered to the course. The conversation is presented below and for more juicy details you can refer to the following article: NYU Business Professor has mastered the art of email flaming.

“Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 7:15:11 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: Brand Strategy Feedback

Prof. Galloway,

I would like to discuss a matter with you that bothered me. Yesterday evening I entered your 6pm Brand Strategy class approximately 1 hour late. As I entered the room, you quickly dismissed me, saying that I would need to leave and come back to the next class. After speaking with several students who are taking your class, they explained that you have a policy stating that students who arrive more than 15 minutes late will not be admitted to class.

As of yesterday evening, I was interested in three different Monday night classes that all occurred simultaneously. In order to decide which class to select, my plan for the evening was to sample all three and see which one I like most. Since I had never taken your class, I was unaware of your class policy. I was disappointed that you dismissed me from class considering (1) there is no way I could have been aware of your policy and (2) considering that it was the first day of evening classes and I arrived 1 hour late (not a few minutes), it was more probable that my tardiness was due to my desire to sample different classes rather than sheer complacency.

I have already registered for another class but I just wanted to be open and provide my opinion on the matter.

Regards,

xxxx

xxxx
MBA 2010 Candidate
NYU Stern School of Business
xxxx.nyu.edu
xxx-xxx-xxxx “

And The Reply:

“—— Forwarded Message ——-
From: scott@stern.nyu.edu
To: “xxxx”
Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 9:34:02 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: Re: Brand Strategy Feedback

xxxx:

Thanks for the feedback. I, too, would like to offer some feedback.

Just so I’ve got this straight…you started in one class, left 15-20 minutes into it (stood up, walked out mid-lecture), went to another class (walked in 20 minutes late), left that class (again, presumably, in the middle of the lecture), and then came to my class. At that point (walking in an hour late) I asked you to come to the next class which “bothered” you.

Correct?

You state that, having not taken my class, it would be impossible to know our policy of not allowing people to walk in an hour late. Most risk analysis offers that in the face of substantial uncertainty, you opt for the more conservative path or hedge your bet (e.g., do not show up an hour late until you know the professor has an explicit policy for tolerating disrespectful behavior, check with the TA before class, etc.). I hope the lottery winner that is your recently crowned Monday evening Professor is teaching Judgement and Decision Making or Critical Thinking.

In addition, your logic effectively means you cannot be held accountable for any code of conduct before taking a class. For the record, we also have no stated policy against bursting into show tunes in the middle of class, urinating on desks or taking that revolutionary hair removal system for a spin. However, xxxx, there is a baseline level of decorum (i.e., manners) that we expect of grown men and women who the admissions department have deemed tomorrow’s business leaders.

xxxx, let me be more serious for a moment. I do not know you, will not know you and have no real affinity or animosity for you. You are an anonymous student who is now regretting the send button on his laptop. It’s with this context I hope you register pause…REAL pause xxxx and take to heart what I am about to tell you:
xxxx, get your shit together.

Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…

Again, thanks for the feedback.

Professor Galloway”

Conclusion

So what do I think about this story?

1. I personally think that the student should not have sent this email.
2. I also think, that the response of Professor Galloway is brilliant, especially the last paragraph.
3. I, however, do not think that forwarding this email to everyone was the best thing to do.

So what is the moral of this story?

Some thoughts are better when not shared. If you are arrogant, before sending an email, make sure to know your sender well. Once your email is sent, anything can happen, and sometimes, this “anything” is not necessarily good for your career. The main lesson that one should learn from this “Brand management” Professor is that every time you send an email you are putting your personal brand into play. What do you think?

Jean-Francois

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9 thoughts on “Think Twice Before Pressing the “Send” Button to Send an Email to Professor Galloway”

  1. WOW- terrific post JF! So interesting.

    I would be over time, Galloway’s actions are going to morph into a “legend” story with additional “details.” Although, quite frankly, I don’t know what else could make the story more interesting from an embellishment point of view.

  2. Hi Jean François,
    this anecdote is really interesting and shows how different can be the outcomes of our online behaviours. When professor Galoway qualifies, with a teasing sense of humour, the student as « an anonymous student », he underlines the impersonality of an email communication. Indeed, they are people who adopt some kind of different manner when they send an email. They express themselves differently and speak with their interlocutors not as the same way as they would have spoken face to face or even by phone. Some people reveal to be more arrogant and less polite by email because of this anonymity. We can suppose that the student would have adopted a different way of speaking to express his disapointment if he had been face to face with professor Galoway. I’m thus thinking to the lesson: every time, you send an email your are putting your personal brand into play. This statement is a fact but is there another danger due to the shift of behaviour that we were described : is the personal brand you are putting into play when you send an email reflect your actual personality? Is there a specific danger of e mail communication as a media coming from this divergence?

  3. @Bob, thanks for commenting. Always nice to hear from you. It seems like the “WOW effect” is what Professor Galloway is trying to show to his students whatever this “WOW effect” is perceived as positive or not.

    @Gilles. Really nice comment. I like your last sentences that can be related to at least two concepts. First, even though your email is different from your personal brand, it puts your brand into play anyway, it can even more destroy your personal brand if it contrasted your actual personal brand, just think about Tiger Woods SMS to his lovely ones, what a self destruction. Second, for the different personality provoked by anonymity or “sense of” is common as you mentioned. YouTube comments are a great example where you most of times see people bashing each other without knowing who they are. I personally think that even though this is perceived as a different personality, it is mostly a part of the individual’s personality that is generally hidden because of social constraints.

  4. I linked to your posting from fb and it sure is getting a polarized response! LOL I just find the story soooooooooo interesting.

  5. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the student’s e-mail. (I do think there was much wrong with his behaviour.) He asked a simple question, seeking to understand.
    What was appalling was Professor Galloway’s answer: it was stunningly arrogant. And highly inappropriate, considering that he is a professor, a teacher at a business school. What makes it worse is that he sent the e-mail to each and every student, not just directly to the student who sent the original e-mail. That is not only rude: I’m wondering why he is still employed? This is an example of exemplary behaviour? Allowing this professor to humiliate this student in public? Nice. Makes me wonder what sort of leader this business school is trying to produce: probably the type I have despised all of my professional life and whose arrogance nearly brought the world economy to its knees in 2008.
    I’m thinking that Professor Galloway enjoys his reputation and, by sending that e-mail, he was aware of what he was doing to his brand: he was making himself more notorious, and, I imagine he thought, more interesting. In my eyes, all he succeeded in doing was try to build himself up at the expense of a much younger and more inexperienced person. In other words, the Professor is a bully. An obnoxious mean bully.
    He would have been a bigger man, and more of a leader, had he taken the student aside and explained how the student’s behaviour was inappropriate (which it was, no question), which is essentially captured in the last paragraph of the Professor’s e-mail.
    Yes, he would have been a bigger man. But we all know that bullies are not big men: they are lost little boys trying to build themselves up at the expense of others. And hiding behind cowardly e-mails.

  6. Gilles comment is really interesting indeed.
    It’s true for email but it’s also true for all presences on the social networks, chats, or any others virtual places, where people can “play” a different life, and express more freely with minor backfiring. But that can be a dangerous game.
    However for some, it’s a way to bypass their shyness.

    The “forwarding” let everyone knows what are the rules in his class. That’s harsh, but the feedbacks are instructive.

  7. @Elizabeth. I totally agree with your point that sending to every other students is adding “fire” at the expense of the student. However, the student’s idea to send the email to the Professor was indeed, either “naive” or “arrogant”, he had nothing to gain by sending this email. Concerning, how NYU should react, I think it all depends on the reputation the University wants to have. NYU is in the worldwide Top 15 for its MBA (ranked 11th in the US for its MBA according to US today), which is excellent, and Professor Galloway has been hired by the University especially to teach MBA courses. Concerning Professor Galloway reputation, he is well-known in New York for this kind of behaviour and he is building a reputation out of that like you mentioned, so there is no need to “light fire”.

    @Cyril. Quite interesting point you are making and this could be related to what is labelled as the “Proteus effect”, that is, the idea that an individual’s behaviour might change when he represents someone that is different from his real-self (i.e. an enhanced or ideal-self, individuals controlling avatars such as in World of Warcraft (WoW) or Everquest are good extreme examples).

  8. It is almost necessary to be arrogant to become successful, cherished professor in the US!

    The email of the student, however, is horrible by itself and deserves such a response. This is called ” an excuse that is uglier than the sin” in the Middle Eastern culture.

  9. Nice to hear from you @Muhammad. Personally, I partially agree with your first sentence. I think that the “firmness” portion of arrogance is a a must need when teaching MBA classes in Top Business Schools, the other portion is sometimes too much. Also, the fact that it was the first class pushes forward this kind of answer from Professor Galloway to ensure firmness. Concerning your last answer, even though the email is well-written, it clearly shows that the student doesn’t understand the rules of the institution, and as I said before, he has nothing to gain out of that email.

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