How to extricate myself from an online correspondence...
July 30, 2013 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Sorry this is so long. Last time, I came to y'all with a problem with online strangers wanting to barge into my life and take up all my time. You gave me some WONDERFUL advice on how to handle this, including giving me your express permission to resort to a completely made-up personal assistant. So I acquired Serge and am much happier. But...

Okay, the problem: there is one dude who slipped in just before I "hired" Serge, my digital amanuensis/personal assistant/bodyguard. This guy (I'll call him Dort) wrote an e-book. (Do normal people ever write these? That's an honest question, btw - more on that later.) Anyway, he's a listener to one of my programs, and I saw in the signature of his first email to me that he had written a book for job-seekers. We sometimes interview authors, so I was interested - also I'm looking for a publisher myself, and thought it might be nice to get his thoughts on getting published. Of course he has none, because he's an e-book author. Didn't realize. Okay, AND I had been thinking about leaving my job. So I got interested in Dort's book.

I read it and found it a bit preachy, with a vaguely insulting thesis: most people have sucky resumes. You are a people, therefore it's likely your resume is sucky too. Listen to me and I'll teach you how to write an attention-getting resume. (yawn)

My main problems with Dort's book:

- Nothing new here. He says under no circumstances should you have a sentence in your resume like: "I was a project manager," etc. No, you must present your experience in terms of accomplishments, as in: -"I conceived, developed, and led my team on a blah-blah-blah project which achieved its goal of blah-blah-blah." Oh, and mix it up visually. Forget the standard design of a resume and do something new and bold! (I already do this before, so not exactly earth-shaking news to someone who has used an alternative resume for a while.)

- The book is poorly organized and beyond confusing.

- The tone is strenuously self-congratulatory, with the author constantly hyping his creds as if begging to be believed.

- Too many case histories. I don't know these people who have achieved success with Dort's program. I don't care.

- This book is written for non-media job seekers. Personally I've had a million jobs. I'm good at getting hired and don't need a lot of advice about how to ace the interview. (I have other problems, lol)

- The book assumes a massive inferiority complex on the part of the reader. It's written for people who can't express their own accomplishments in a creative way, or even think clearly about them, because they're so down on themselves that they're nearly suicidal. Just - wtf?

When Dort asked for my reaction to the book, I just stuck to the things in it that I thought worked, and said it would be helpful to those new to the process.

He was thrilled with my feedback. So now we're enmeshed in this relationship, Dort and I. He's interested in my job search, and believes his method is helping me. He's asking, "Did you finish the book? Are you doing my method? Oh, I googled that job you applied for, it seems like it might be a good fit for you..." How the heck would he know, he doesn't even KNOW ME! And why is he googling stuff I'm interested in? Felt a bit sticky after that.

Yet I've brought this on myself.

I'm wondering if Dort is grooming me for inclusion in his next e-book as a case-history or endorser. That would make sense, but do I have any obligation to him here?

He's starting to criticize me, which I flat-out fucking hate. "You're certainly busy, Cartoonella, but I would caution you about applying to jobs before you've finished my method. How far have you gotten with it? I would hate to see you crash and burn because you weren't prepared..."

Logically I know I could just STOP REPLYING to the guy, and simply cut it off. But I'm sucked in - convinced I should be doing all of this steps and reporting faithfully back to him. Why can't I shake this weird guilt thing? (Shades of dad issues?)

He's also not leaving the coffee thing alone, as in: "When are we going for that coffee?" NEVER! I never said I'd ever meet up with him for coffee. In fact I explicitly wrote that I don't meet up with listeners as a rule, and that my husband took a dim view of that kind of thing. Dort doesn't care - he's still urging me to come to his speaking engagements at public libraries, and offering me rides home after. Like that would be an inducement!

How shall I word my next response to him, without sound high-handed, bitchy or irritated?

Please tell me I don't owe this guy anything. I know this is true logically, but I just need a reality check here.
posted by cartoonella to Work & Money (18 answers total)
Response by poster: I work for a radio station and part of our brand (or whatever) is the cultivation of an image of approachability with respect to our audience. If this was just a personal thing, I would probably cut him off.

I have had disagreements with some of our online fans before, and some of them escalated it and started copying the owner of the station on my replies, which had become snippy. They don't want me to get snippy with listeners, so - it's a bit of a tightrope walk.

Just need to find a graceful sentence or two, to seal things off.

And, if any of y'all are amateur psychologists - why do I keep getting sucked into these stoopid things?
posted by cartoonella at 3:34 PM on July 30, 2013

"Hi, Dort. Unfortunately, my boss says that I'm getting too wrapped up in a project that the station can't endorse officially, so I'm going to have to cool things w/r/t your next book. I look forward to reading it when it's published, but I can no longer be a part of your process. Thanks so much for all your interest!"
posted by xingcat at 3:36 PM on July 30, 2013 [17 favorites]

I'm not sure why you wrote a ton about how much you don't like his book- it has nothing to do with your question. Tell him you've suddenly got a lot busier at work and will have to cut back on correspondence. Then cut back.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:54 PM on July 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

You don't have to be so nice to Dort, nor any other needy and/or manipulative person. You don't even have to tell the truth! Why in the world did you ever get into a job-seeking conversation with someone whom you only need to be in contact with for work? Just tell him you've changed your mind and won't be looking for a new job anymore after all, but thanks for all the advice.
posted by teremala at 4:00 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I work for a radio station and part of our brand (or whatever) is the cultivation of an image of approachability with respect to our audience.

Unless, presumably, they are weird, quasi-stalkers sucking up your free time.

So cut him off and be approachable to the other ones.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:05 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maybe try just killing with kindness in the (assertive) brush off, while being careful not to give him credit he doesn't deserve or making opinions about his work. A few sentences that basically say, "Thank you for providing your thoughts and input, I am moving forward with my job search and I feel confident that I have all the tools and resources I need at this time." When he proceeds to fire up the questions about using his methods or the unwanted advice about what you're doing (wrong), etc., just repeat this same "polite" message.

Basically send the message, "beat it, creep" but send it in a way that your station can't find fault with.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 4:22 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Slow fade? How frequently are you corresponding? Triple that before your next reply, then be super-cursory. Just skim his email for questions, answer them in a few words, and hit send.

"Hi Mort,
Super busy here! Don't think I'm going to make it to that release party. And I'm still just on chapter 2. Hope all's well with you and the book!

- Cartoonella"

After his next reply, wait even longer and be even briefer.

If this doesn't work, maybe Serge could take over and introduce himself, or you could introduce him, explaining that because you'd gotten too busy, you hired him to handle your email correspondence.
posted by salvia at 4:26 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and in addition to being brief, be vague and leave out details.
Where are you applying? "I'm applying a few places."
What has you so busy? "Lots of running around."
posted by salvia at 4:30 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's no way your station can reasonably expect you to keep up a correspondence or relationship with a pushy listener who is giving you creepy, borderline stalker vibes.

The best way to deal with this, in my view, is to be fairly blunt though polite to him. If I were you, I would write him one message saying, "Dort, I appreciate the time you've spent corresponding with me. However, the tone of your recent messages has made me uncomfortable and I'd like to discontinue this correspondence. Thank you for understanding. Sincerely, X."

Then, if he writes you back one message, ignore it. If he writes you a second message complaining about your lack of response, write back, "i made it clear that I no longer want to correspond with you. Please do not contact me again. [Signed] X."

This course of action has the virtue of being clear, firm, and polite until he pushes you.

Remember -- you owe this man nothing. Stand up for your right to dissociate from someone who makes you uncomfortable!
posted by Unified Theory at 4:44 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, you should definitely only answer like every three emails he sends. I'd be vague, cheery, VERY short, address NOTHING he's asked you or say anything personal, and then eventually stop answering them. Just don't ever respond. Your station SURELY has dealt with these kinds of listeners before and they're not going to come to you and be like, "I can't believe you didn't answer these multiple emails from this wacky dude!" In other words, what salvia said. The slow fade.

As for why you got yourself into this, it's probably because you're a people pleaser and you want everyone to like you and when they don't, you feel like you've done something "wrong" -- this ties into your concerns about your boss in this instance, as well. At least, that's why I have gotten myself into similar situations in the past. It used to even bother me when people I PERSONALLY HATE disliked me! It takes a lot of work to convince yourself, if you're like me, that you don't have to be 100% Super Friendly to literally every nutter you come into contact with. But you don't. You're allowed to phase this person out. He's being irrational and when it comes right down to it, you don't even know him!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:52 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seems to me with someone this pushy, they don't take deescalating emails--any response just activates the bug-me button. Since you need to toe a line here, I'd use xingcat's suggestion of one email and then ignore. Don't feed the annoyance.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:02 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is a good life skill to learn. You literally don't have time for this person, so stop making time for him. If you really want, let him know in one last e-mail that you are not looking for any help at this time and you wish him the best of luck with his book. Then, just never reply to him ever again. Even if he sends you 10000 messages--use your e-mail to filter them right into the trash.
posted by dottiechang at 5:16 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Armchair psychologist here!!! I have TONS of advice for you and will follow up repeatedly to make sure you take it!! (KIDDING.)

I think you're getting sucked into these things not so much in an effort to please Dort, but rather in an overachiever's effort to excel at your job. I think you've internalized, and are taking too seriously, the station's desire for you to be nice to listeners. (I say this as someone who tends to feel very identified with my work and seek to be recognized for my dedication even when nobody really cares.) Does this ring true at all?

If so, maybe it will help you to extricate yourself if you remember that this guy isn't going to do your station any good, just like your correspondence doesn't do you any good. It's not like he's an important sponsor or community activist or whatever.

I'm a little concerned that you confided in him that you're thinking of leaving the station; I can see that getting ugly if he forwards email to your boss. So here's what I'd write: "Dort, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I'm not actually looking for a job at this time, so I'm not the target demographic for your book. I'm very busy with other projects, so I'm not going to be able to continue our correspondence, but I hope you have a great rest of your summer and wish you the very best of luck with your work. Very truly yours, Cartoonella."
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:54 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd go with something like:

"Hey Dort,

Before you get too invested in this, I need to let you know that I'm not going to be able to keep in touch with you about my job search anymore. I have too many plates in the air right now. I wish you the best of luck with your book.


That is, if you want to do this "gently." I don't think you owe him an apologetic response to his aggressive, un-asked-for advice.

He'll probably follow up with some objection ("You need to prioritize your job search over everything else! I can help."). And you can say, "No thanks. I'm happy with my current plans. Good luck with yours!"
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:16 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Have you read the oft-recommended The Gift of Fear? It covers exactly this scenario.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:49 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's no way your station can reasonably expect you to keep up a correspondence or relationship with a pushy listener who is giving you creepy, borderline stalker vibes.

I don't know squat if this is possible, but maybe you could ask your boss how they would prefer you to handle dealing with creepers like this if you are supposed to look friendly and approachable and all that crap? Because yeah, a reasonable employer should be okay with you drawing the line with this one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:14 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Guys, BEAUTIFUL advice! Thank you so much, and I feel SO MUCH LESS GUILTY now!

Great insight, fingersandtoes, that I have this need to excel and somehow this scenario with Dort triggers my "I'm so good at this" response. So true - the station doesn't need this guy, and neither do I.

Yes, when I started chatting with the guy about my job search, I switched to a non-work email account. So the guy gushed to me in his next message about how flattered he was that I trusted him enough to give him my private email address. Yeah, that would be a NO, I was just covering my ass, not extending you my trust. Gawd! Anyway, yes, no more conversations with him or anyone else about my job plans - that was a stoopid move.

I appreciate the specifics on how to word my exit email. Also love the advice on doing a slow fade - no fast responding to his next communication.

Got a bonus reality check too - received a PM from someone who says they make a nice living at e-books and isn't weird at all. I apologize if I implied otherwise - didn't mean to offend.

Thank you so much, again, for your enlightenment. I faved all your comments!
posted by cartoonella at 9:14 AM on July 31, 2013

Also, yes 'normal' people publish e-books. I have a friend who is quite successful self-publishing on Amazon.

Maybe that means he isn't normal, then.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:44 PM on July 31, 2013

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