Professional Response In Relation To Private Situation?
August 24, 2009 4:03 PM   Subscribe

What sort of professional response should I write to a person with whom I have some personal issues?

Not to go into too much detail, but at the start of this summer, a long term friend of mine surprised me by banning my wife from her house. The reasons for this aren't germane to this question. Suffice to say that it isn't going to be worked out anytime soon.

Anyhow, this week, this friend sent me a request for information regarding a project she's starting at work. Specifically, since I've already gotten a project of this nature off the ground where I work, she figures I have some useful insight into how she can get this project off the ground where she works. This was written from her professional e-mail address to mine.

Since I'm under no obligation to help her (this would be doing her a huge favor), my gut reaction wasn't especially kind. However, since this was written in a "professional to professional," I am of the opinion that my response should be professional - as opposed to profane. Furthermore, work e-mails where I work are all stored by our company.

Were it not for this rather huge personal matter between us, I wouldn't hesitate to share this information. I would probably be willing to share it with a complete stranger under most circumstances.

On the other hand, if I had banned somebody from my house, I wouldn't be asking their spouse for a favor, much less a huge favor.

Anyhow, I'm looking for suggestions regarding some professional ways of responding to this person. Thank you for your time!
posted by Joey Michaels to Work & Money (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Put the message in your pending file and ignore it.
posted by @troy at 4:06 PM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

"I don't wish to discuss potentially confidential information pertaining to my company's business activities. Thanks for your understanding."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:06 PM on August 24, 2009 [15 favorites]

posted by StickyCarpet at 4:07 PM on August 24, 2009

Ask your wife how you should respond, and then when she says "do what you think is right," choose your wife over your former friend.
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:07 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Whoops...I misread. "I'm sorry, but I will not be able to assist you with your request."
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:09 PM on August 24, 2009

Ignore it. It's a pretty brazen request and as if banning someone didn't show a certain lack of social grace, this certainly indicates that this person has some interpersonal issues of their own.
posted by GuyZero at 4:11 PM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Are you still friends with this woman despite her policy towards your wife? If so, I'd go for the polite refusal a la Cool Papa Bell's response. If not, keep a dignified silence.
posted by vickyverky at 4:12 PM on August 24, 2009

Depending on the specific request, I'd probably defer her question to another colleague. That way, you are acting polite and professional without having to interact with the long-term-friend in any manner or outright refuse her.

Of course, if you could reasonably hide behind company policy, then do that.
posted by muddgirl at 4:12 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might also consider your employer's wishes. You don't suggest that this is the case, but if your friend were to work at your employer's major supplier, they might want you to share your expertise (with the expectation of developing goodwill, discounts etc.).

It also seems incongruous to me that you continue to call this person your "friend" but you seem to have a good deal of animosity towards her. Either she is continues to be your friend despite how she has treated your wife (you don't say whether your wife deserved the banning or, now banned, deserves a second chance) OR she's no longer your friend--in which case, just ignore it.

Or send her a response on from personal email to personal email saying "I can't believe you have the gall to..."
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:13 PM on August 24, 2009

Professional, dismissive, but responsive email response:

Hi ExFriendName,

This is a big project. I found some good ideas at Sorry I can't help more.

Best, YourName
posted by samthemander at 4:19 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ignore, delete, and forget.

Change your filters to purge any incoming emails from the person. Pretend you did this way back when this person first banned your wife from her home.

See? Problem solved! You never received the email request to begin with.

(FWIW, it sounds like this email is a continuation of whatever started between her and your wife this summer. Steer clear. I'd be suspicious that her intention might be (subconsciously?) something along the lines of gaining validation for her previous behavior by now having positive interactions with you. Whatever her angle, you want no part of it if you value your marriage, your place of business, and your integrity. Delete and move on.)
posted by jbenben at 4:19 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't respond from your work e-mail address at all. "Professional-to-professional" doesn't apply if you have no professional relationship with this person. She is contacting you because of your personal relationship with her, it just happens to be a work-related question.

If she follows up with you about it, or you feel that a reply is necessary at this point, write back from your personal e-mail address with something brief and not especially hostile, like "I still feel bad that my wife is banned from your house. Sorry."

She should be able to figure out that means you aren't going to help her and why. And who knows, maybe it will lead to a discussion about resolving this issue, whatever the reason for it is?
posted by FishBike at 4:20 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dear No-longer-good-friend,

Thank you for your email.

My apologies, but I am not currently able to devote time to helping you with your project. I'm sorry.

However, [attached/below] please find a [link/document] that I used to help me get [Project X] off the ground here. I hope that you find it useful.

Best of luck on your project.


[Add one or two easy to gather but handy resources from your own project work here.]

That's pretty much word for word the email I send out to people asking for help with research - something I get all the time at work from random strangers. By offering a tiny bit of help, you can feel better about yourself because you went above and beyond what you were required to provide. At the same time, you didn't get bogged down with doing someone else's work. Plus you helped a little bit, anyway. It's win/win.
posted by gemmy at 4:22 PM on August 24, 2009 [6 favorites]

If you've got an NDA at work? Dive behind it and hang out until the smoke clears.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:26 PM on August 24, 2009

Oops - I didn't understand this person was a long term friend of yours. Apologies.

Cool Papa Bell, or muddgirl, and samthemander. FishBike if you feel some something towards this person like respect. My answer if you can't believe she'd contact you for any reason except to apologize to you and your wife.

FishBike says it better than me - the professional thing isn't relevant. This email to you was all about the personal.
posted by jbenben at 4:29 PM on August 24, 2009

Were it not for this rather huge personal matter between us, I wouldn't hesitate to share this information.

If this is the case, and if you can do so without spending much of your valuable time, then for your own sake and integrity you're probably better off providing at least some assistance despite your personal acrimony. I definitely agree with mrmojoflying that you should first ask your wife how she feels about you handling your ex-friend's inquiry. And if your wife does not object, then helping this person is the professionally courteous thing to do.

On the other hand, if I had banned somebody from my house, I wouldn't be asking their spouse for a favor, much less a huge favor.

I don't doubt that, and neither would I. Frankly, it sounds like this woman lacks a shame gland. That said, being magnanimous here is simply the more professional response.
posted by applemeat at 4:37 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is this woman your friend or not? If she's not your friend anymore, ignore the email and all future emails from her. Problem solved.

If she is your friend, what the hell are you doing? She banned your wife from her house. Short of your wife being some insanely rude asshole who trashed the place or made a horrible scene or did something equally ban-worthy, that's like, dead-to-me behavior.
posted by balls at 4:47 PM on August 24, 2009 [12 favorites]

She should apologize about the issue she has with your wife way before she goes about trying to get any sort of information out of you; especially if it's for her benefit/profit and furthermore if it's information you're obtaining from your employer. That's just absolutely tacky.

I would probably ignore it, but if I were to respond, I'd let her know that she is not allowed to contact me, especially at my professional email address, and even more specifically for purposes of leveraging herself at the expense of my company's research/experience after what you seem to feel is an unjust predicament involving she and your wife.

This is a bit bizarre -- perhaps she doesn't realize that her decision about your wife wasn't as big of a deal as you two took it to be? You say the particulars aren't important but something isn't lining up here.
posted by june made him a gemini at 4:51 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sounds like a blatant attempt to re-establish ongoing contact with you in a context which excludes your wife. Unless you have an existing professional relationship which needs to be maintained for your company's benefit (and if that's the case, you need to find someone in else in your company to take on that role), ignore the email.

Do you really believe that this person is going to be happy with a dismissive, courtesy response and not use it as an opportunity to ask follow up questions etc? That they have used professional communication channels to re-establish contact with you when they could have asked for your assistance informally and you could have rejected their request informally suggests the kind of manipulative mindset with which you should avoid engaging.

Have you mentioned this request to your wife? I sure as hell wouldn't give this "friend" any leverage by hiding this contact from your spouse.

I've banned the partners of friends from my home in the past. I accept when doing so that the friendship is effectively over for the duration of that relationship and certainly wouldn't feel entitled to ask any professional favours from my friends "on the side" - whether I support the relationship or not, it is not my right to actively compromise it in any way.
posted by Lolie at 4:54 PM on August 24, 2009 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of your responses so far.

To fill in some additional details...

I no longer consider this person a friend. I just wasn't sure how else to refer to her for the sake of this discussion. "Enemy" or "Foe" sound a little too "90120" to me and 'Frenemy' too "Sex in The City."

I don't really want to get into the particulars of the banning, but, in my biased opinion, it was for a bullshit reason. I've tried very hard to put myself in my former friend's shoes, but even then it seems like its a bullshit reason.

I told my wife about this immediately so we could share a good laugh about the balls on this person. I mean, really, that's some balls to be asking me for advice after banning my wife!

I think she agreed with my initial planned response which was to simply send her the following:


Ultimately, we also agreed that probably wasn't an especially professional thing to do.

At the moment, the e-mail is in my "pending" file, per @troy's suggestion.

I'm usually pretty good at being professional in most circumstances, but I'm still seeing red here and recognize that I lack perspective. Sitting on this for a while is probably a good start.

What's that saying? "Reply in haste, regret at your liesure?"
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:44 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ignore it and forget it.
posted by anniecat at 5:47 PM on August 24, 2009

Response by poster: Also, Balls: dead-to-me behavior.

Wow, that's really exactly what I've been saying about her for the last three months. Again, just to make it clear how I feel here.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:48 PM on August 24, 2009

With the caveat that even with your followup, I agree with june made him a gemini that "You say the particulars aren't important but something isn't lining up here."
posted by vincele at 5:54 PM on August 24, 2009

Best answer: Since this person doesn't have an existing business relationship with your company (or with you), ignoring it and putting their email on your spam filter does seem the best way to handle this.

Incidentally, I can see how it being business-email-to-business-email makes it seem like a response from you is required, but without that prior business relationship this can be considered personal business using company resources, so if you're following the letter of your HR department's policies you shouldn't be responding to her through that venue even if you wanted to.

For consideration: an appropriate response to her email if you were bestest buddies, she made this request through this channel, and you wanted to respond might have been to send her a personal email from your personal account to hers, giving her a heads-up that your company's HR policies are quite strict and the corporate email monitored so you have to handle such things outside of that channel.

So, take that reasonably appropriate scenario, add on your lack of ongoing friendship and your lack of desire to help, and you can see how just ignoring it is the way to go, just as you'd ignore any unsolicited email from a random person attempting to find out more about your business or take your time without paying for it.

A side note: I have a good buddy whose wife is terrible, just terrible in a certain situation -- such that when us friends gather to do this particular thing, we wouldn't invite either of them lest the evening turn into a trainwreck. Really, she was that bad on this one particular thing. So while in my case we still adore them generally and would never "ban" them from our house, I can understand how one person might be so sick of another person's behavior that they feel such a ban is appropriate. Which isn't to suggest that the poster's wife deserved the ban -- that's just silly to speculate about -- but is to suggest that I can easily comprehend how all the pieces of the poster's scenario as presented line up just fine.
posted by davejay at 6:13 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "You say the particulars aren't important but something isn't lining up here."

While I think my wife and I are entirely in the right and I can't see how any reasonable person would think otherwise, the bottom line is that former friend thinks the ban was justified and I do not. Going into the details about this would be silly, since the actual act of banning from the house is what has me pissed off. Furthermore, you'd only be hearing my side of the whole situation, which you would be quite right to question since - even were I to make a sincere effort to be fair and balanced - my account would inevitably be shaded in my favor.

Whether it was justified or not (and obviously I think it wasn't), the end result is that as soon as she banned my wife from the house, our friendship was over.

The tone of the banning email was that "this effects wife, but also you too since you should know about it," the implication being that somehow I wasn't going to be bothered by the ban. Neither my wife nor I have responded to that e-mail - or to anything she's sent me since.

Perhaps she didn't believe that banning my wife from the house would be a friendship ending act, though that seems fairly obtuse to me. Perhaps she's interpreted my lack of response as something other than "you're dead to me." I honestly don't know and I don't really understand it either.

Anyhow, that's why I say that the particulars aren't important. If it helps, I would put the justification for the ban in the "batshitinsane" category.

I hope this helps clarify.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:17 PM on August 24, 2009

Balls said it for me.

Definitely, if you banned my spouse, (especially since you said it's for a bullshit reason) you are dead to me. Then again, I'm super loyal. It's a conflict of interests, in my mind.

So, Ignore, ignore, ignore.

Had she been honest and acknowledged how awkward and rude it is to ask for a professional favor under the circumstances...maybe.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 6:23 PM on August 24, 2009

Another thing I find disturbing about this situation is the relatively short time which has passed since the rift. Had a couple of years or more passed, then tentative semi-professional, unapologetic contact would be far more appropriate than when the wound is both recent and unresolved.

I also find it interesting that this person sent a "banning email" - I've never had any problem when I've withdrawn the welcome mat with telling people exactly why in person. Has there been other contact since the banning email and before the "professional" one - your last post suggests that there has been.

Time to filter out this person on all electronic media accounts, I suspect - she doesn't sound like the kind to "take a hint".
posted by Lolie at 6:53 PM on August 24, 2009

Dunno that ignoring would shut down further communication. I'd respond with something like, "I am not able to provide assistance and wish to have no further communication about this matter."
posted by ambient2 at 7:13 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Circular file.
posted by flabdablet at 7:27 PM on August 24, 2009

the end result is that as soon as she banned my wife from the house, our friendship was over.

Then she is a stranger and you are under no obligation to help her or even to respond.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:41 PM on August 24, 2009

The thing is that ignoring will almost certainly not end the conversation, whereas "I can't help you, and considering our estrangement, I think it's odd for you to ask" might.

Or at least it should. Obviously, you should do whatever you think is right, but in my own experience ignoring unwanted correspondence just makes it fester until you have to lance the boil anyway (and sometimes the "boil" is the asshat showing up at your office all 'WHY YOU NO ANSWER MY EMAIL OR PHONE CALLS?')
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:31 PM on August 24, 2009

The concept of "not dignifying it with a response" applies here. The bullshit banning wasn't dignified. The bullshit mooching request isn't dignified. Don't legitimize it with a response, even a negative one pointing out the estrangement.
posted by majick at 8:53 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whether it was justified or not (and obviously I think it wasn't), the end result is that as soon as she banned my wife from the house, our friendship was over.

Your loyalty to your spouse is a great thing. I'd tell her that you'll be unable to help her. Provide no explanation. If you are enaged as to why, tell her that you love your wife.

Sign it "Adieu." It means "I give you to God," which implies you won't be seeing her for a long, long time.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:52 PM on August 24, 2009


I don't see how I could help you with that.



Are you sure she's not trying to sleep with you or something? Not like it matters at this point...
posted by kathrineg at 10:17 PM on August 24, 2009

I think I agree with Sidhedevil that ignoring it might lead to her getting frustrated and finding other ways to contact you. I'm not sure how this rates on being professional but I'd forward the e-mail to your personal account to write a reply. I'd be honest and not mince words.

Considering your animosity towards my wife, I don't feel it's appropriate for me to associate with you. Please don't contact me again.

It's professional in tone but since it's a personal matter, to me, it should come from your personal e-mail. You can then ban her from both your work and personal e-mail account. You've answered her question and made your feelings known on the matter. The odds are that she will leave you alone after being blown off so formally.
posted by stray thoughts at 11:34 PM on August 24, 2009

So, she's either taking a shot that you might help her, because she really needs help, or just hoping that that you are one of those 'shunning my spouse is personal, but business is business' folks.

She just read you wrong.

I'd say ignore it, and respond only if she doesn't get the message delivered by your silence, and contacts you again. Then, let the message be short, like gemmy suggested.

And don't get sucked in. Even if the ever so tempting, escalating email of some variation of "But why can't you help me?" arrives in your box, you will have to fight the desire to give the "Because Karma's a bitch, bitch!" response.

Don't do it! Let the pleasure of knowing you that you could point out that she's getting denied because she broke at least one of the 7 rules of highly effective people, be enough.

Stay on message: "I can't help you at this time. I'm managing several other projects. Best of luck to you" is professional boundary-setting gold, every time. Repeat as often as necessary.
posted by anitanita at 11:46 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pass the email to one of your company's sales people, suggesting that they contact this person about b2b consultancy, at standard commercial rates.
posted by Hogshead at 4:46 AM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Question: Is this a friendship you and your wife once valued enough be worth a shot at saving? Because if it is, and you think the friend's email might be a (vanishingly subtle!) feeler, a mature and professional approach might be to reply from your personal account that you'd like to resolve your collective personal differences before you'd feel very comfortable to consider such a request for help, but in the meanwhile, this [resource] was helpful in your own project. Wish her success on her project, and close just a bit more formally than you might have prior to the upset.

You'll have taken a step up in both spheres, made your position clear without either burning any more bridges or compromising your integrity or spousal loyalty, and just may have made a small opening for fixing up the relationships. Assuming you want to....
posted by TruncatedTiller at 5:49 AM on August 26, 2009

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