In a nutshell:
Within the last couple of weeks, I received an email from a blogger who I’d never encountered before (and whose blog I wasn’t familiar with). She was writing to say that she was thinking of starting a regular feature with the same name as something that I do, and wanted to know my thoughts. In fact, she asked if it would be okay with me.
I responded, and thanked her for contacting me. Since she’d asked (I said), I told her that I’d prefer if she didn’t do the exact same thing as I did, and said that since I did have this feature up and running, I’d love to have her join in. I mentioned my preferences, and added something that others have told me when I’ve reached out for an opinion: It’s your blog, so in the end you should do what works best for you.
I also — and perhaps here’s where I went wrong — mentioned that I have a book blog meme directory page. My impression was that she was interested in starting up a meme, and so I basically said, hey, if you’re interested, check this out — there are a lot of bloggers doing some pretty cool stuff, in case you want to see what’s already out there.
I closed with thanks — again — for contacting me.
And that was it. Do you see a problem yet? In case there’s any doubt, let me just say that I was sincere in saying that I thought it was nice of her to contact me — and since she’d asked my opinion, I didn’t see anything wrong with giving one. My intentions were all good, I swear.
I got an email back, and it was fairly awful. I was told that my email was condescending, that she’d been blogging for a lot longer than I had, that she was not impressed at all, that I didn’t seem to have as many followers as (it was implied) she does, and that she’d heard of all of the memes in my directory except mine. Furthermore, she told me, she hadn’t really needed to contact me to begin with and now she wishes she hadn’t.
I felt terrible. And completely misunderstood. And kind of attacked. And at the same time a teensy bit thankful that I’d made it almost to a year and a half as a blogger before getting an email that made me feel this lousy.
So, I wrote back. I told her that perhaps my intentions hadn’t been conveyed in my email — maybe my tone hadn’t carried through — and that I was sorry to have caused offense. I assured her that I did not feel condescending nor had I intended to sound that way, and also expressed confusion over what I had said that would be interpreted that way. I stated, again, that I respect her (and everybody’s) right to do whatever they want with their own blogs. I wrapped up by saying I wished her well and to please consider my email a peace offering.
… which she accepted, because I got a nicer email back which made me feel better, and left me feeling that the conflict had been resolved and the issue put to bed.
So why is it still eating away at me?
I ran the string of emails by a trusted friend, who’s one of my go-to people when I need some honest critiquing. She didn’t see anything wrong with my original email, although she did point out that perhaps by suggesting the other blogger check out the meme directory, she might have taken it as me saying that she was a newbie or didn’t know what she was doing.
Okay, fair enough. I will say that I get contacted by people with questions about the directory several times a week. Sometimes the questions will be along the lines of “I’m thinking of starting a meme! How do I get listed?” and I’ll suggest that they look to see what’s already being done and how the listings appear, so they can try to come up with a fresh angle or a slightly different focus. And when I do refer people to the directory, I usually hear “thanks!” in reply.
But, okay, for someone who’s been blogging for a few years, maybe that came across as condescending.
Other than that, I guess I just don’t know exactly where I went wrong. It’s ironic, in a way, since in my work life, I often coach younger or less experienced workers on email etiquette, and we frequently discuss how tone doesn’t always come across in emails as intended. So short of using a smiley emoticon at the end of every sentence, I don’t know how I could have said what I said and made it clearer that I meant it all in a friendly spirit.
I’m probably belaboring the point and getting carried away… See what I mean? I take things personally and then have a hard time letting go.
But I think the reason this bothers me so much is that I place a huge value on kindness and respect. (Ask my kids — it’s kind of a mantra for me). If someone wants to say something mean to me, I guess I can just absorb it and move on. But it really upsets me to think that I came across as disrespectful or unkind to someone without realizing it.
So… where did I go wrong? Should I just have replied to the original email by saying “thanks” and “no worries, it’s all good”? I suppose I could have, but I was asked for my opinion, which is why I gave it. Was giving the referral to the meme directory the wrong thing to do? All of the above? None of the above?
To be clear, I’m not faulting the other person involved at all. The whole reason I’m writing this post in the first place — rather than working on an overdue book review! — is to better understand my role in all of this.
I’d love to know what you all think. Have you ever been in a situation as a blogger where an email or a comment of yours has been misconstrued? What would you have done in my situation? Do you think I should have taken a different approach? Do you think I’m worrying too much about it all? Feel free to tell me I’m being oversensitive and obsessive!
Thanks for listening! I promise that I’ve moved on… but I’d love to hear some comments.