An Email Exchange that went South

So, this came in over the transom yesterday:


I was surprised: why would someone at APSA, and a newbie Dir of Communications, want to pick my brain?  So I thought I’d ask:


Now, you might be thinking: Why ask?  Does it matter?  And at some level, no, it does not matter at all.  After all, had he phoned, I would have answered and we would have chatted.

But this is a great example of a situation where one of my aspie tendencies reveals itself.[1]  You see, I have an insane desire to do things correctly.  Worse, I am the relevant audience. So this request for a phone call made me a bit anxious because it was not clear to me what the person wanted, and it was far from obvious to me that I have anything useful to offer.  I asked for clarification so that I could be reasonably prepared, the purpose of which was to manage my own internal dialogue.  It had nothing whatever to do with the person who contacted me: I know that when I got done with the interaction I would judge whether I was pleased with my performance or not.  I have no earthly idea how to “turn that off.”  It is just a part of my existence.  So, undoubtedly unbeknownst to my interlocutor, he had induced a small amount of stress into my life, and I wanted some info to manage it.  I often have this sort of experience when I interact with a friend of mine, David Davis, who is (to me) infuriatingly vague (casual) about things, and I know full well that’s just his style.  It wouldn’t surprise if this person has a similar personality/style.

This morning I received this reply:


This irritated me.  “Why didn’t you answer my question?!?” my brain hollered.  And I thought about whether I should (a) just suck it up; (b) ask again (nicely); or (c) register my irritation, hoping that might prompt a reply.  After all, I am happy to help out, but I was miffed.  I kicked this around for 45 seconds or so, trying out a couple of different phrasings, and settled on signalling my irritation:


The reply came quickly:


I rolled my eyes, and decided to cancel:


I suspect that my correspondent is a perfectly decent sort who found my query about why his lack of a response to my question about the topic asinine and rude.  I suspect at least some, perhaps most, readers will agree.  And I confess that there must be more effective messages I could have written to elicit the information I sought.  But here’s the thing: I did make some effort to do so.  I just came up blank, and being useful in this situation just wasn’t that important to me.

This is a weakness I am aware of: I sometimes find myself at a loss with respect to how to respond to someone who has irritated me in a fashion that does not escalate the situation.  I have learned to seek counsel, when doing so seems to be a good plan, and am often surprised—Why didn’t I think of that?!?–at how obvious the proposed course of action can appear in hindsight.  I am sure such an opportunity existed here, though as I type this I honestly don’t know what that might have been.  And in a situation like this, I don’t find it worthwhile to seek someone’s counsel.  So I just winged it, and it turned out much less pleasantly than I had anticipated.  And that is a shame.

Oh well.  I am sure the American Political Science Association, which has never sought my counsel before, will be perfectly fine without it.


[1] This is not the first time where the communication style of the sender of an email irritated me.

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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