Monday, January 05, 2009

Why email is not the way to reject someone

3 of the biggest and saddest events of the past year for me involved email rejections. I gave one out and got two back. Which would look like karma but I still would have got the two rejections via email - regardless of whether I decided to dish out my own rejection via email.

But it does put me in a position to have an opinion on the subject. It's this:

Don't give people the heave-ho, or the no-no via emailage. It's not the done thing. It shouldn't be. And it's not nice. We have all done it at one time or another because it's easy and it's quick and it's convenient and we don't have to look into the other person's eyes while they're processing the news. Those are all advantages for you.

The other obvious one is that we (and me certainly) are sometimes *better at expressing ourselves* in written down words than when we have to say things out loud in a conversation.
  • When I'm on the phone with someone I forget what it was I wanted to say.
  • I get sidetracked and start talking about something irrelevant.
  • I find it hard to stick to the subject.
  • I'm easily convinced to change my mind in conversation - but email is fixed. It's you giving a speech - a written down speech - but there's no capacity for the other person to interrupt - they just have to read & take it...
Those are the advantages. The disadvantages can be summed up in one word, it's just


Getting a rejection via email is heartrending. You suffer on your own. You have no redress. It's final. It's all of the above reasons that the sender uses as an excuse for sending it - but from your point of view - it's just.... not fair.

My first rejection of the year via email was for a job type-of-thing - something I'd worked hard to get an interview for - that would have meant me relocating to that London. A complete change of life. It was hard not to get quietly optimistic. To hope that they would recognise my qualities la la la at the interview. And the interview went *okay*. There were questions I didn't do that well on. And when it came time for me to ask questions my brain was so exhausted from the earlier part of the interview that I ummmed and ahhhed and didn't ask anything very relevant.

(panel interviews - 3 versus 1 = CRUEL!!!!)

But I thought - yeah, I stand a chance. Of course, they had to interview other people. Over the next week and a half and would let me know in 2 weeks.

2 WEEKS!!!! Now that's cruel. I was practically choosing curtains for my new flat half the time and convinced I'd been rejected the rest of the time. And inevitably, after 2 weeks, I heard nothing. I had to phone up and speak to a secretary, who told me that the relevant people weren't around and they'd let me know.


20 minutes later she sent me an email to inform me that I hadn't been selected. Other candidates la la la...

That 20 seconds while your email program stutters and judders as it attempts to open up the new mail - the little preview panel that says, "Dear Mr Sullivan, thank you for -"

You still have a little bit of hope - you're writing the letter two ways - "thank you for coming for an interview it was great to meet you, you're great.... unfortunately..."

So, job & academic world people - tell me by phone like you say you will. We'll call you, they say after interviews. But they call the person that's been accepted. The rest of you get an email or a postal letter 3 weeks later. If you're *lucky*.

My second email rejection - was really via a Microsoft Word document attachment - which the fussy Anti-Virus program on my laptop took what seemed like 5 minutes to check over and over before it eventually opened with some very unexpected news. Unexpected? Or obvious? Those 5 minutes gave me time enough to imagine more than one possibility. Some of them involving death and disease. But it wasn't that bad. Life goes on. Even if it did seem to stop at that moment and drop into a big black hole... I clambered back out of the hole a few weeks later. The sun was still remembering to get up in the morning even if I was not so keen.

However, all of that taken into account it meant that I should have been much more sensitive when it came to be my turn to do the rejecting. As droned on about previously - dropping out of my teaching practice. Cos yeah, I did it via email. And it's not nice. There are humans involved. Reading not nice things that you've written. Your opinion, but not an opinion they're happy to hear. It's not good for them, even if it feels good for you to slurge it all out. Cos when you're feeling ridiculously unhappy and emotional and generally sad and wanting to say *exactly* what you think - email will do that - but not, as they say, in a good way.....

People deserve at the least a telephone conversation and preferably a face-to-face. I feel guilt, and so this is my confession and chance for redemption. As small time as all of this may seem...

So. Number 2 on my list of resolutions for 2009***

Buy a clipboard. Carry it to all meetings.

That way I have the advantage of writing down exactly what I want to say. But it's also fairer on the other person & I can change my words if needed.
  • If I'm intending to reject something in a formal situation - I won't lose my focus & I'll remember all the points I want to make.
  • You can negotiate, but you won't forget exactly what you want to achieve.
  • It's less likely that you'll be intimidated by a stronger personality or a higher-up person who wants you to do things you don't want to.
  • You can even hand them a printed out *email*. You don't have to speak but they get to respond to the words - that way they don't get to keep the words. If you regret what you say later, it's usually best not to give someone evidence that they can forward to whoever they feel like.
  • Another snidey advantage is that I can also write things on my sheet of paper. So I won't forget what they say on the one hand, but I can also pretend to write when making eye contact becomes uncomfortable. Without appearing rude. Sneaky but useful.
  • If it's an informal situation where I'll look like *a Freak With A Clipboard* I'll take along a little post-it note. Like a shopping list of items for discussion.
  • If it's a job interview - you're apparently allowed nowadays to take in a list of questions - you're also allowed to make notes about what the interviewers ask you. It's considered professional rather than just dweeby.
So. 2009 - meet Clipboard Guy. Back to the pre-electronic age. No longer hiding behind the ease and snidey qualities of email when it comes to being nasty to someone.

I urge everyone else to do likewise.

In the words of Thumper's mum in the film Bambi, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all - the least you can do is say it to them in person!"

*** N.B. Resolution number 1 was to bake more pies. Apple & rhubarb will be the first if all goes to plan...

### Nice irrelevant photos of hummingbirds from howstuffworks - showing the beauty of nature and ummm. They're nice? Natural selection. Evolution? Yeah, evolution. I'm evolving into a nicer person. Let's hope.


  1. I have to use email to reject people all the time. It's not nice, but someone has to do it...LOL

    Example... Hi Sarah, I would like to come and see you but I'm only 21. Is this a problem for you?

    Yes it fucking is... piss off.

    LOL .. I don't use emotive language like that, but the message is the same!

  2. I think you're allowed to reject people you don't know. But if you've met them that's a different story possibly. Life is hard. Rules are quickly broken. We can but try to be good.
    You could always say, I am busy for the next ummm 25 years but have you tried ****, who I believe would be available. It's the positive rejection method. It's a theory I've just thought of that probably isn't relevant.

    Sometimes it's better to do it like you're pulling off a plaster: quick and sudden, get it over with.
    Email will do that very effectively.

  3. i like to write down things i have to say in business meetings, and then i can look important thumbing through notebooks and scribbling things down without getting caught out.

    this goes for phonecalls too!!!