Strongly worded letters

Expert writers and researchers showed up in two columns today, fretting that they hadn’t been properly recognized for their efforts on behalf of others.

Exhibit A: Ask Amy

Dear Amy: A woman who is a friend of a friend wants to do research in East Asia and is applying for a grant.

Because I am very familiar with this grant and used to advise applicants on grant proposals, my friend provided this woman with my e-mail address.

She sent her application and asked for advice.

I wrote a lengthy response, gave her some helpful tips about the application process and provided feedback on her proposal.

She never responded.

I would appreciate a “thank you” e-mail from her, but I would also like her to know that her lack of response was rude.

She is a college student.

Should I write to her?

— Grant Me Respect

Dear Grant: You should send an e-mail to this person with the subject line: “Following up.”

In the body of the e-mail, say, “I never heard back from you about your grant application. I hope you found my comments useful.”

If the person replies, you could then write, “Honestly, I spent a lot of time and effort on your behalf. As you go forward in your career, it is important for you to acknowledge this sort of thing and also to say ‘thank you.'”

If she doesn’t reply, she is demonstrating that she was not worthy of your attention.

Anyone can be ambitious, but ambition combined with grace and gratitude is a winning combination.

Exhibit B: Miss Manners

Dear Miss Manners: I’m a volunteer writer for a publication with a subscription list of 10,000, and I write profiles of citizens who serve as role models for others in their attempt to make a difference in their local communities.

For the last six years, I’ve made ordinary people look like the “gods and goddesses” that many already think they are, and the pieces have featured their portraits in color, pictures of their families and events that they host.

However, I’m stunned that, to this day, I’ve never received a note or call thanking me for my positive portrayal of their lives following publication.

If someone favorably profiled me in a magazine, I would at least call or send them a bouquet of flowers in appreciation for the time it took to write and edit the piece.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here to learn. Civility is dying: “Please” and “thank you” are no longer common vocabulary words, and even those who are so-called leaders in their communities fall short of common courtesy. Am I expecting too much of others?

Gentle Reader: Yes, if you expect them to thank you for portraying them favorably. They think you captured them accurately and that they did you a favor.

Miss Manners does not disagree about the appalling decline in such courtesies as writing letters of thanks. But in what Miss Manners was pleased to call real journalism—back when the idea, at least, was to portray people objectively— letters of thanks were not expected.

But one of these things is not like the other, methinks.  In Exhibit A, someone really went out of their way for a person they don’t even seem to know.  Not to mention that the fabric of the non-profit/academic world is woven out of these kinds of connections and favors.  I agree with Amy that, not only should this person have been thanked, but that there’s an opportunity here to mentor a younger professional who could really benefit from the lesson. Cultivating “ambition combined with grace and gratitude” seems like an invaluable thing.

In Exhibit B, well, Miss Manners hits the nail on the head, too: these folks think they’ve done this person a favor by agreeing to be interviewed and giving her a story.  It’s too bad she’s not getting paid when she’d probably like to be….but that doesn’t mean she should be compensated in flowers by her subjects.


2 responses to “Strongly worded letters

  1. While I agree that the first person should absolutely be thanked for trying to help, there is a lot of information missing from that story. How long had it been? I know people who rarely check their emails, and sometimes I’ll get a reply a month or two later after they JUST read the email.

    As far as the second person is concerned.. Maybe she should reconsider her chosen career if she thinks every story is going to thank her.

    • Wow, hi there, Chris! A blast from the past in the blog comments. Thanks for reading! Good point that timing makes a difference here–though I suspect that a college student up against a grant application deadline is surely checking her email. In this case, I think a “thanks for your detailed reply! I will peruse it and take your comments to heart” would have been appropriate even if she hadn’t taken the time to read the message yet.

      ….But, as someone who has certainly been guilty of letting complex messages go unanswered for weeks while I try to compose my reply, I am hardly in a position to just. In fact, that may be exactly what’s happened here. I bet if this person sends a follow up message, the recipient will be mortified (in a good way) and reply immediately.

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