About the Author

Honey's main interests are online dating, long distance dating, and long term relationships. She met her boyfriend on MySpace and they have been exclusive since their first date over three years ago. Currently they live in Tempe, Arizona. Honey graduated with her PhD in Composition and Rhetoric in May 2009. You can contact Honey via email here or online here.

Social Artistry at Its Finest

So last week at work I sent out an e-mail blast to all of our graduate students advocating the dossier management service Interfolio.  Essentially, you can upload any documents you want (including confidential letters of recommendation that your recommenders upload to your account themselves via a secure link) and then when you apply to a position that wants a dossier, you can select via checkboxes which documents/letters you want sent, and Interfolio does it for you.  This is nice because you don’t have to print out everything yourself or worry about where the nearest post office is.

I highly recommend this service.

Then a faculty member e-mailed me and cc’ed the director of our graduate programs, essentially creaming me for having given advice to their graduate students without checking with her (!) or the graduate director first.  She explained to me in painstaking detail how letters of recommendation and other dossier-documents must be specifically tailored to the position you’re applying for.  She stated that this site might be appropriate for “the business world” (by which she means my staff position) but that this was not at all the thing in the realm of academia.  She ended her e-mail by saying,

“I don’t mean to sound quarrelsome, but I think you are on a wavelength that is different from doctoral education.”

Now, in my ordinary life, I might just call her a bitch and decide never to talk to her again.  However, she is a faculty member that I will have to continue to work with, and whose graduate students I will advise.  I needed her, not just to tolerate me, but to be on my side.  So I needed to bring all my skills as a social artist to bear on this woman who, under other circumstances, was unbearable.  Here’s what I did:

  • I started off by saying, “Thanks for your feedback!”  Start by assuming the best of the other person – she has no personal investment in tearing me down.  She cares about her graduate students and wants them to have good advice at their disposal.
  • I pointed out that I am graduating this semester with a PhD from a program that is ranked top 5 in its field and this is the resource they recommend to their job seekers.  I don’t think that this person knew that I had a PhD, nor that I had done a nationwide academic job search – it was important for me to let her know that I’m not just some person recommending something I saw on the internet, nor was I trying to make a recommendation across totally different industries.  We were peers.  I reinforced this perception of peers having a discussion by calling her by her first name in the e-mail.
  • I explained the service I had recommended in more detail.  This person is a bit of a Luddite in any case, so I think she was wary just because it is an internet-based thing in addition to any concerns she had about me.  My original e-mail to the list did not include enough details to alleviate her concerns about privacy and other issues.
  • I asked for her advice on a related issue.  In my experience, nothing disarms someone faster than asking for their advice.  Particularly professors who are used to giving it!
  • I acknowledged that my experience with her specific field was limited and that I had perhaps made an inappropriate generalization.  While I stood firmly by some aspects of my original recommendation, it did turn out that the site, while generally useful for letters of rec, would not work for the type of student that I advise here. 
  • I complimented her.  I told her that it was a great thing for the students that they had someone so involved and invested in their success, and that I had learned a great deal about her field based on our exchange.
  • I urged her to continue to give me feedback on my performance.  This can be tough (though easier to pull off over e-mail than in a live exchange), but especially if you want to not just assert that you are correct, but actually change the other person’s mind to your way of thinking, it is important to be a little humble.

It took one more exchange after that, but it ended up with 1) a positive response to the question I asked her advice on, 2) her saying that I should offer a brown bag for graduate students who are interested in broadening their options to include non-faculty positions (!) and 3) her asking me politely for a favor. 

It doesn’t get better than that, especially after I forwarded the e-mail to the BF and he said that 1) he never could have been that polite to someone who had initially been so rude to him, and 2) he took my idea of asking a higher-up who was being slightly antagonistic for advice that same day, and the person’s attitude toward him totally changed, too!

That is why Lance and I are such proponents of social artistry.  It’s not (just) about tricking people into sleeping with you.  It’s about moving with ease through your life, and (apparently effortlessly) turning adversaries into advocates.

If this post convinced you to take my side, too, you might also enjoy:

  • http://casualencounters.com/blog/ Janak

    Good approach. I probably would have adopted a similar one, although after first spending some time with a raincloud over my head, thinking:

    1) “I think you are on a wavelength that is different from doctoral education” is awkward English. WHERE’D YOU GET YOUR QUALS FROM, IGNORA-FAG.

    2) Fuck you.

    Janak´s last blog post…A funny sex video while I’m working on the next review

  • http://honeyandlance.com Honey

    Yeah, I did think both of those things – my dream is to be Gordon Ramsay and cuss everyone out anytime they annoy me. It would be AWESOME.

    Honey´s last blog post…Social Artistry at Its Finest

  • Jonsi

    WOW! I could have used your advice a couple years ago when someone who was supposed to collaborate with me tore me down. I basically decided just not to work with him.

    I agree, if you are seeking faculty positions or postdocs you need extremely tailored letters of recommendation based on your statement of interest in the position. However, most PhD’s ultimately do not obtained tenured faculty positions, and such positions are becoming increasingly scarce, hit as hard as any sector in this economy. I’ll be graduating with my PhD soon too and am looking for industrial, policy, or consulting positions. I would love to have more generic letters of reference on the queue for those positions, especially because many faculty are biased against you if you choose alternative career paths, and I’d rather not ask them to repeatedly write references since I know they don’t want to spend the time if it’s not going to strengthen their own research network.

  • http://20-forty.com/ lisaq

    Wow! Nicely done. I’m with the bf. I’m not sure I could have been so polite.

    lisaq´s last blog post…Go Green With These Environmentally Friendly Dating Ideas

  • http://honeyandlance.com Honey

    Yes, it’s definitely tough when you “leave” academia – I still work at a large university and I know that the faculty in my PhD program are disappointed because I abandoned the tenure track thing.

    The big misunderstanding was that in my field, there are well over 1,000 jobs per year – so if you are truly “on the market” you apply for AT LEAST 50 and probably more. There is NO WAY anyone’s going to write that many tailored letters, so it’s a lot more acceptable to have slightly generic ones. The grad students I mentor now are lucky if 3 jobs come open in a year for them to apply for, so it’s REALLY important that they have extremely tailored letters.

    The thing I kick ass at is writing the letter of intent. I am AWESOME at it :-)

    Honey´s last blog post…Social Artistry at Its Finest

  • http://casualencounters.com/blog/ Janak

    Yeah, I’ve definitely had that dream.

    Ramsay sort of mixes it up, though. Like he’ll call someone everything under the sun, but then there’ll be a “special moment” segment where he’ll try to help them to deal with whatever issues. I doubt his show would work for many people without him also displaying that aspect. Though it still would work for ME. FUCK YEAH.

    Janak´s last blog post…A funny sex video while I’m working on the next review

  • http://dadshouseblog.com dadshouse

    Politeness is huge! It can work wonders. As for PhDs… I was in a top PhD program in my field, and I saw so much backstabbing, brow-beating, down-putting (put-downing?) that I said fuck it! And I left with a Masters… Kudos to you for sticking through it and getting your degree.

    dadshouse´s last blog post…US Patent 587994 – Male Chastity Device

  • http://www.interfolio.com/about/clients/partners/index.cfm Frank

    This is Frank from Interfolio- I just wanted to say that our focus is indeed higher education and we partner with many top graduate departments to provide a dossier service and online portfolio to their doctoral students.

    The debate on tailoring letters is ongoing, but what we hear is that letters need to be tailored to the area of study, but not necessarily to each and every individual position. This is especially helpful- as Honey points out- for both students AND letter writers when candidates apply to 30, 40, 50 or more positions, and that’s where Interfolio helps.

    I’ve linked to our list of university partners, but any graduate student or faculty can use our service, whether your school is on this list or not.

    Thank you, Honey for recommending Interfolio, and I’m glad we were able to play a role in your social artistry.

  • http://honeyandlance.com Honey

    Thanks for stopping by, Frank! I plan on relocating to another city in 2-4 years, so I’m definitely keeping my Interfolio account active.

    Another nice thing about it is that you can have access to the letters of rec even if you haven’t been in touch with the person in the last couple of months…obviously I’m not advocating using letters that are grossly out of date or anything, but recommenders are understandably going to prioritize graduate students that they see every day, who are looking for their first jobs.

    Honey´s last blog post…Why He’s “The One,” or 5 Fun Facts about Honey and the BF

  • http://www.interfolio.com Frank

    Absolutely! And how hard is it to ask a professor to simply update an older letter rather than write a brand new one, especially if it’s been a while since you were in touch with them?

    Honey, we also just launched a new online portfolio product too that’s included as part of your Interfolio account. It’s for your professional identity online, for networking, or for if you get googled by a prospective employer. If you get a chance, I’d love to know what you think.