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Social blunder: help the receiver save face, or you disempower them

I do my best to make the time to send personal "thank you" messages to any new, valued connections that I make:

In this case, I sent an initial post-meeting follow-up and another follow-up in case he missed the first one.

And, he used my diligence against me:

  • "...I got your email. Sorry I didn't reply back..." (= I got your message and I chose to ignore you / not to respond)

He could've easily helped me save face by simply removing the first part:

R: "Hi Ali, sorry I didn't reply back. Thanks for following up..."

Being disempowered is one thing, but I think the real loss is in the potential for great collaboration.

Collaborations (or the potential for them) can die simply because one party pulled one too many anti-social power moves and the other party got tired of it.

And, he doesn't seem like a game player—the impression I got from him when we met is that he could probably benefit from a bit more power-awareness/social intelligence.

And yet, I still feel too annoyed to bother keeping in touch with him.

Either way, feel free to leave your thoughts below.

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood

I do feel there's a few power moves in his email.
With the first part as you mentioned:

I got your email. Sorry I didn't reply back.

Also,

Thanks for following up. I'm glad that you enjoyed the meeting.

seems like he frames you as the one who needs something from him.
He frames you as the one who enjoyed getting value out of the meeting.

A balanced statement would be

I really enjoyed talking to you, and I'm glad that you enjoyed the meeting.

Then he seems to put the onus on you to follow up further with

We hope to see you soon.

Like it's on you to put in the work to set up the appointment.

I have someone who I've been talking to over WhatsApp and email that seem to use similar tactics.
I have found them to be annoying too.
He delays replies, tries to downplay the value I give him and highlights the value that I took from him.

Hey Ali,

I'll give you a different opinion here.

It might come across as tough love opinion, and I might be wrong.
But you know it's all for a good cause, and it's better to be wrong and potentially deliver value, than agree and deliver no value.

You are right about the power dynamics in his reply.

However, we must look at the full interaction to get the full picture.

Personally, I feel like the second reminder was unneeded, and it's what might have precipitated the interaction.

The second email feels like piling up pressure on him to acknowledge you.

The First “Nice To” Feels Good, The Second Feels Pressuring

The "good meeting you" feels good if one sends it out of pleasure.

Indeed, I often like to send a "good meeting you" making sure that I expect no reply -which might be the best way to increase the odds you do get a reply, and a potential future connection-.

The moment you expect a reply though, it becomes a chore for the receiver.
The second email is the most obvious way to sub-communicate "I expect a reply from you".
And that also frames the first email not as giving, but as expecting something (taking).

It's entirely possible that with the first email he thought "nice of him to say", and then moved on.
With the second one though he thought "now he's making me feel guilty, and I feel obliged to reply".

Unluckily, in the value-accounting chart we recently launched here on TPM, the feeling of obligation of that second email might push the interaction from slightly positive green territory, into yellow negative territory.

Organizer / Speaker Power Dynamics

It sounds like the guy was an organizer, a speaker, or someone more heavily involved in the organization.

Consider that the people more heavily involved already feel:

  1. Higher value than the attendees
  2. Givers (for the simple fact of putting in the effort to organize, and sometimes it's a fair self-assessment)

That might or not might be true, but look at it from his perspective: you probably know more about him than he knows about you.
To him, you might be one of the several people who attended, and one of the several who enjoyed the event.

And consider that organizers often have people walking up to them, or writing them.

So for him it feels like "cool, Ali here also enjoyed the meeting, I'm glad about it".
Good feeling overall, just not enough to reply.

When I was organizing meetups and events, most of the people who walk up to you are taking something.
Most aren't taking much, often just the "chance" of speaking to one of the highest status guys of the evening -organizers are almost naturally high status-.
But still, mostly they were slightly taking, and very few were giving.

So unless you've done something to stand out, you're slightly negatively pre-framed (I'm taking the worst-case scenario here, I know you got all the skills and the knowledge to better frame yourself. Still, we can all slip up).

Add up the second follow-up email, and it dips even more negative.


As usual, I wasn't there.

You'll know better what applies to you of this message.

What do you think?

Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Matthew.

And, I think you're right, Lucio.

Chances are, the receiver (who is indeed an organizer) felt like the second email was "pressuring". And, regardless of intentions, a behavior that started out as green dipped into yellow for its value-taking implication (i.e. "give me a response").

And, as a side note, Nick Kolenda actually recommends not following up as well (see Sales Psychology).

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on September 21, 2021, 9:09 pm

That might or not might be true, but look at it from his perspective: you probably know more about him than he knows about you.

In this case, we know an even amount about each other.

This was a group meeting that I was invited to, so I joined the meeting as a guest knowing nothing about anyone.

Still, I see your point here. And, it underlines the dynamics of an organizer / speaker's tendency to sometimes say, "How can I help you?" Oftentimes, most are taking while they're doing most of the giving, so it feels natural (and acceptable) to them to use that covert power move.

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on September 21, 2021, 9:09 pm

So unless you've done something to stand out, you're slightly negatively pre-framed (I'm taking the worst-case scenario here, I know you got all the skills and the knowledge to better frame yourself. Still, we can all slip up).

Add up the second follow-up email, and it dips even more negative.

Thank you, Lucio, this is my biggest takeaway from your message. And, I needed to hear it to know better for the future.

To be clear on my position here though, I still believe that it would've been more respectful if he would've left out the power move. It was unneeded and broke rapport with me.


I wonder if it would be helpful to have some sort of added rule (like the WIIFT rule) that states something like:

Group Social Exchange / SCM Rule: when you're grouped in with a bunch of value-takers, do something to stand out or you risk being negatively pre-framed by the value-adders in the group

*Note: If we have something like that already, feel free to let me know.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

I think the traffic light analogy might be more than dependent on various circumstances, but also subjective (what one person views as green another might view as yellow, and so on).

For example, sometimes emails get lost in my inbox because I get so many. So, I miss the first email, but catch the second since it pushes the thread to the top of my inbox. And, in cases where that email is value-adding, I'm glad they followed up. I view those second emails as green.

Other times, I see follow-ups as yellow (example below):

In this case, I never saw the first or second email. I saw the third.

When I opened it and saw two previous emails in the same thread from the same sender, I assumed I hadn't responded yet because I didn't want to. I back-rationalized that I must have been uninterested.

And, as the sender sends more and more follow-ups, their behavior dips further and further into the red for me. It gets to a point where I want them to understand (without me having to invest the effort to say it) that if I wanted to respond, I would have.

What I think makes these two situations different is:

Situation 1 (My Email):

  • The sender is giving: my email contained value
  • The sender is offering future value: my email contained a promise / offer of future value
  • The sender has some passive social capital: because of some rapport built with the receiver during the meeting

So, I assumed a follow-up would be in the green.

But, I think what made my follow-up dip into the yellow territory was:

  • The sender is pre-framed as more value-taking than value-giving: due to organizer / speaker dynamics
  • The receiver "owed" the sender value: because, during the meeting, the receiver offered to give the sender future value and then neglected to deliver (therefore, despite all value given and promised in the reach-out, the receiver might have assumed that the sender was only reaching out to hold him to his promise / take value)

And, I think that where I messed up was in my social accounting, as Lucio said. Giving more value would've moved me out of the taker lens and probably elicited a more ideal response from the receiver.

Situation 2 (Above E.g.):

  • The sender is taking: the sender reached out without giving any value, so now they're taking my time
  • The sender seeks to take future value: the sender reached out with an offer for future collaboration—which means they'd be taking in this deal as well
  • The sender has zero social capital: we've just met, nothing's been given of value yet, and the sender is not high-status enough to have any passive social capital with me

This causes this sender's follow-ups to feel more like pressure.

In short, I think the difference between what makes these follow-ups green, yellow, or even red is how much value is being given / how much social capital the sender has.

As a final example, take this follow-up I did with L, a contact I spoke about before (who's now a friend):

In this case, I used the same follow-up approach as the one above and got a very different result (more social effort in the receiver's response, more willingness to give value and further the relationship, and a generally more positive outcome).

I think I'm going to keep a closer eye on how much I'm giving, how I'm pre-framed, and what kinds of responses my emails get for a while. Hopefully, that will improve more of my outcomes.

Lucio Buffalmano and Matthew Whitewood have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoMatthew Whitewood
Quote from Ali Scarlett on September 23, 2021, 8:27 pm

I think the traffic light analogy might be more than dependent on various circumstances, but also subjective (what one person views as green another might view as yellow, and so on).

Absolutely.

It's subjective, but not endlessly subjective.

The rest of your email shows as much.

And the more one understands the principles of the power/social exchange, the more that subjectivity plays a small role. And, especially if in person, the better one is able to spot the misunderstanding/subjectivity and correct course.

Sometimes you think you're giving -or taking-, but just see/feel people who behave as if you were not that welcome -or more welcome than you thought- and you re-adjust and re-calibrate, and can either limit the damage, or turn around the interaction.

Also, the subjectivity is not so so much individual, as it is role and personality-based (we've seen an example here with the organizers/guest role).
And that also can be reduced once one understands the commonalities among roles and personalities.

If it were endlessly subjective, then learning and improving one's own social skills wouldn't matter at all. But it obviously does.

P.S.:
You never said it was endlessly subjective.
And your wonderful analysis correctly shows how skills and calibration can lead to very different outcomes.
I replied to my own pet peeve as subjectivity is often used as an excuse to do nothing -or to just spam everyone, since "it's all subjective"-.

Ali Scarlett and Matthew Whitewood have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettMatthew Whitewood
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

It's subjective, but not endlessly subjective.

If we get 100 power-aware individuals to analyse a social scenario and 80 of them reach a similar conclusion, that would remove a lot of the subjectivity.

Maybe the grey areas will have 60/100 agreeing.
Like "does Bitcoin provide more power to the average consumer?".
(Purposefully choosing a topic with many factors to consider)

Also, the subjectivity is not so so much individual, as it is role and personality-based (we've seen an example here with the organizers/guest role).
And that also can be reduced once one understands the commonalities among roles and personalities.

A power-aware individual would be able to step into the shoes of the people involved without letting his own biases get in the way.

For example, most power-aware individuals would agree that a social liberal would find abortion to be value-adding.
Although abortion is in itself a controversial and subjective matter.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano
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