Speaking the unspoken (2)

And that last entry reminds me of another story from last week.

Some friends and I met a magazine publisher and editor last week to talk about potential collaboration. At least that’s what we hoped we were going to do. We meet in a coffee place and it’s just one of those weird meetings where I just feel uncomfortable from start to finish. The publisher seems like a woman in big hurry and her editor seems a bit stressed too. They treat the meeting as an exercise in explaining to us how to write articles with lots of facts, with a peremptory attempt to find out what we actually do.

We ask what they thought about a recent article one of us published; they make a few remarks which I translate in my head as “err we haven’t read it”.

So it’s a crappy meeting really. And the moment they leave us, we all agree we hated it. Pity none of us did much about it at the time.

Anyway, we decide that instead of just moving on, we’ll write a letter saying that we didn’t feel inspired by the tenor of the meeting and wish them (genuinely) well as, despite this, we all really liked their magazine. Another decision to speak the unspoken.

This letter prompts a fairly patronising reply that accuses us of “not having fully researched how to pitch an article to a magazine” and protests that it was a special treat that they bought us coffee as they were very busy and don’t normally meet people this way.

On one level, oh dear, what have we accomplished by this exchange except some hurt feelings all round. But on the other hand, I think we did well. It’s no good talking authenticity and then practising only bland politeness. And we have genuinely learnt a lot from this exchange about how our intentions were interpreted. And the next time something like this happens I’ll say something at the time – and probably in a more constructive and friendly way.

Many of us – myself included – have a phobia about conflict. But I’m finding more and more that conflict can be hugely instructive. And conflict avoidance, whilst sometimes prudent, can often block learning and lead us to settle for a more humdrum existence.

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