Years ago, I had a long-standing parent/teacher relationship nearly end after a series of puzzlingly nasty emails. I finally realized it was the medium, not the message. I picked up the phone and called the mother. We solved it in five minutes. She'd misinterpreted something in my tone. I had misinterpreted something in hers. It had spiraled more out-of-control with each email.
Tone doesn't matter much if you're emailing or texting your best friend. But when you're using email for business, tone is almost all that matters.
I think of sending email as holding a megaphone. I want to be understood, so I have to remember that the medium sometimes can distort the message.
I go out of my way to be warm, because in email it's all-too-easy to come across as icy.
If it's financial, the parent may already be embarrassed and would appreciate my understanding. I'm looking for a resolution where both of us are happy. If we part ways, I still want them to feel good about the way I've handled a difficult situation. And I want to feel good about how I handled it for myself.
In any thorny email I send, I try to make sure there's room for the other person to save face. I keep the tone of my message warm and professional no matter what the other person is saying.
I like to start every email by reminding the parent "we're on the same side." Here are some examples:
I loved watching Suzy tackle that Czerny piece last week. (I'm really paying attention to your daughter.)
For example, a parent would like to sign up for a less expensive option. (In this case, lessons, but not the group master classes.)
Be understanding, but restate your policy in a warm voice. Never confuse a simple parent issue with how you feel about teaching their child. Constantly remind yourself that the parent is trying to do the best for their family as a whole. There are almost always issues affecting their decisions that you know nothing about.
She didn't get a convenient time, and noticed an "open spot in my schedule. She wanted to be able to use this spot on an "as needed" basis.
There's nothing wrong with someone asking for something special, but there is also nothing wrong with restating your policy politely but firmly.
Let the parent know how much you truly enjoy your work and teaching their child in particular.
Let the parent know that you truly understand how hard it is to make decisions. If your studio is very full and you may not have room in the future, there is nothing wrong with letting them know that. Convey your patience with their process and willingness to empathize with any decision they make. Don't try to make their decision for them.
Let the parent have the benefit of your experience and still leave an opening for the child to start lessons fairly soon.
Follow up a particularly great lesson with an email solidifying the experience.
"I had an amazing lesson yesterday with Ariana! It was one of those perfect lessons where everything combines to make things possible that just shouldn't be possible. (The props, the development, the curiosity.) Sure is fun."
Send progress reports or updates at least once a year.
Thank parents who go the extra mile: the ones who are willing to swap lessons or give someone a ride. Having a thriving music business is all about karma.