Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Email: A Cautionary Tale

Well, this has just been a banner week in the communication department. Not only have I managed by email to insult a friend to the point that I haven't had the guts to check my personal account for fear of (not) seeing a reply, but I have also managed through work email to entangle a different friend in a ridiculous territorial posturing imbroglio between our two missions. Yes, yes... bravo me. Before starting on a career in public diplomacy, perhaps I ought to pay some attention to diplomacy's more fine-grained personal side.

The work problem was ENTIRELY my fault for being so simple-minded. I had asked my friend for some insight into a portion of our applicant pool which is very opaque for me; i.e., third country nationals in Japan transiting back to the country where he happens to be serving. He gave me some very useful information and suggestions. To my mind the information was so useful, in fact, that in my wide-eyed naivety, I forwarded his message to 2 people in Tokyo. I really honest to goodness thought that we could improve information flow and do a better job of adjudication at both of our posts, and that they would be HAPPY for this opportunity. 'Hooray for proactivity!' I told myself. Well, needless to say, by the time Tokyo was through becoming well and truly worked up over the whole thing, my friend had received censure directly from his CG, and I'm stuck down in Osaka feeling rather distraught at such seemingly overblown, self-righteous reactions from the higher ups in both missions. So much for being proactive.

The worst part of the entire mess was that there was no way for me to take the focus of the blame off of my friend and put it on myself. Talking to Tokyo had already proved an incredible mistake, and talking to his mission would have just been silly. Luckily he has a cool boss who will, I hope, protect him. And maybe he won't take me off his Christmas card list, as threatened...

So, what lessons have I gleaned from this past week?

1. Never forward anything to anyone in its entirity. Paraphrase, outline EXACTLY how you intended for the message to be interpreted by the receiver, and EXACTLY what actions you intend to result from sharing the message. And don't use your source's name unless you are quoting Condoleezza Rice. Or maybe God.

2. One can not overestimate the political nature of a bureaucracy. There's bad blood, and hidden agendas, and sensitive nerves, and just generally a lot of baggage involved in every exchange, no matter how innocent it seems to you. The workplace is a mine field. I'm not sure how many times I have to have a limb blown off before that truth finally sinks in.

3. For interactions of an intense, personal nature, remaining silent is preferable to sending an (inevitably) misunderstood email. From now on, any heartfelt outpourings on my end will only take place via carrier pigeon, or more likely just not at all. I'm not even sure I trust phone calls for this, but at least over the phone there's no written record for someone to return to and misinterpret over and over again.

My NIV chief is trying to arrange a TDY for me in Tokyo. I'm not looking forward to it.


Mrs. Wrye said...

What is a TDY ?

Anonymous said...

Time Doing Yucks

Funny thing, cable went out today telling all posts that they have to put notes in for visa issuances. Guess my email is making a difference, if not in Tokyo.

You will always be on my Daughter's email list.

M. said...

It's inevitable that we all will end up with our foot in our mouth at some point early on in our tenure - don't worry, everyone understands this to be true and this too will soon be a distant and dare I say amusing memory.