Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The art of saying “no”

I don't read through emails word-by-word, I skim through them unless they are really important or come from someone important. I get close to 150 emails a day from all kinds of people. Colleagues. University emails. Professional society emails. Urgent emails. Useless emails. Journal editors asking for reviews. Publishers trying to sell me their products that I will never buy. Survey requests. Scams. Phishing emails. Hapless students from abroad who tell me their GRE scores and ask where they should apply and whether they should study fisheries or pharmacokinetics (how am I supposed to know?). Random faculty from China self-inviting themselves as visiting scholars to my university and assuring me they would return the favor if I ever want to visit China. Unfortunate spouses who moved to the US allured by the promised greener pasture and after seeing only snowy pastures, email to ask me of their future prospects (Irony! Little do they know that I am still figuring out my future prospects in this country after all these years!). I skim emails because it is a necessary practice to save time. 

Acceptance emails/notifications are short and sweet. They start with the word, "Congratulations!" The message is delivered, loud and clear, without wasting my time. 

Rejection emails/notifications somehow become all about the person who rejected me. There are two paragraphs about how the selection process was daunting, challenging and how they had to skim through hundreds of great applications to select the best. The outcome is like a hidden gem, I am still on paragraph three and trying to understand what was the outcome of my application. Well, tell me you did not select me and move on. You do not have to make this email a sob saga about you. I have plenty of other things to do, other opportunities to apply for, and all I want to know is the outcome before I move on. I do not care how many applications you had to read. All I care about is I did not make the cut.

Effective communication is an art. Be objective, be succinct, and be precise. Tell me what you are trying to tell me in the first line. Don't make it about you. It is just an award, a paper, a grant, and not the end of the world.  



Clairvoyant said...

This is wonderful to read although quite personal experience.
You still write ?

Ritambhar said...

Your preference for direct communication in all circumstances is just your point of view. It might also be my point of view but need not be everyone’s point of view. There is a school of thought that it is pretty difficult to maintain a perfect balance in communication, so the next best action is to err on the side of politeness rather than rudeness. This is especially true for one to many communication scenarios (though you are reading a rejection email addressed to you, it is in essence a mass mailer sent to several other similar applicants). So, all the beating-around-the-bush stuff is an expression of apology for rejection.

sunshine said...

Ritambhar, of course it is my point of view. Brevity does not mean rudeness. Rather, it is rude to be beating around the bush and wasting my time. "We are very sorry to let you know that ......" is good enough for me. Message delivered in the first line, loud and clear, without rudeness. My ego is not that fragile, I can take a rejection.