Monday, February 9, 2009

Email at Work

So recently, some issues with email developed at work. No, not technical issues, but interpersonal issues.

Warning: this is a long bitchy post. And a post like this highlights exactly why I do not disclose the URL of my blog to co-workers (except for perhaps 2 people that I inadvertently did so to). I do need my space to rant.

Now at work, after I had invited somebody (henceforth referred to as "X") to a meeting to discuss an item ("the Concept") tabled on the agenda, X proceeded to ask what exactly the Concept was about as apparently it was the first time he had heard of it.

Because the item on the agenda was something still in development and we were currently in the process of elucidating it, none of us attending the meeting really knew what the Concept was about. Indeed, the reason why I had been asked to arrange the meeting was to invite the stakeholders and possible collaborators in for a discussion session. 

So, seeing as how X wanted to know more about the Concept before deciding whether or not to attend the meeting, I wrote a short description of what I thought the Concept was about to give X more than just a snazzy name (don't they all have these high-falutin' fancy names?) to go on.

Whereupon, I got a reply from X prefaced with the dismissive lines "I will not pretend to understand" and "I am not a Concept expert", which made it sound like I was writing in Greek or High Latin and talking down to everyone on the cc list (which of course, included everyone and their great grandmother).

Worse yet, this "I will not pretend to understand and I am not an expert" line, which far from being a modest statement of professing ignorance in Great Matters, was  ironically followed by a brief rant on the problems that X had with the Concept as outlined by me, even though I really only intended to give X a rough sense of what we were supposed to discuss at the meeting itself.

X wrote the problems he had with my outline of the Concept in his email reply and proceeded to cite references in the email, despite him being self-professedly "not an expert". And X asked, rhetorically of course and in about as obnoxious a manner as possible, whether anyone had read another august publication that contradicted these references.

"Not an expert" who happens to be brimming full of criticism.

Passive-aggressive ass.

To top it off, while X indicated that he would attend the meeting, he did not see how he would be able to contribute meaningfully to the discussion at this juncture.

Now naturally, I wasn't going to let that slide. I might be fairly junior in my company, but you don't go disrespectin' me like that and get away with it!

I dashed off a quick reply to X and cc'ed everyone on the list. Very briefly, I stated that I wasn't the originator of the Concept (someone very high up was), and that since he had no previous encounter with the Concept (and he had asked about it), I had thought it helpful to supply him with my perspective on it, purely for his edification. My opinion of the Concept was "certainly not the last word on it", as I eloquently put it. I then proceeded to thank him for his reply and assured him that his presence at our discussion was valued and sought after.

All this in very polite, very formal ... and very frosty tones.

I thought that this would be the end of it, but X came back with a reply shortly after.

No, it wasn't an apology (you wish!). It was more along the lines of: oh dear, here we are getting off the wrong foot, what a misunderstanding this is, and this is the reason why I don't like email and prefer face-to-face communication.

Oh really? Well, I guess that's excusable, seeing as how email has only been around for what, more than a decade, and it's sooo unreasonable to expect that most everyone should know that email is extremely poor at conveying non-verbal cues and as such, a neutral tone should be adopted at all times.

And while you're at it, no need to apologise at all for your email that started the "misunderstanding". And sure, by not apologising, make me look like the touchy, defensive twerp  who can't take a little criticism. CC it to my boss too, will ya?

Like I said, passive-aggressive ass.

PS: He eventually cancelled on us saying he had some other urgent matters to attend to.


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