Recently I had a meeting with a woman who just became part of a publishing team with responsibility for publishing some books I'm involved with. I generally avoid such meetings, preferring instead to focus on the writing/ideas part of the books. Lucky for me, the first author of the books is a socially skilled person who excels at most interactions with humans (and I am not just saying that because he occasionally reads this blog), and he mostly takes care of the author-publisher communications.
I could have refused to have an in-person meeting with this new person, but my co-author talked me into meeting with her. He said that these publishing people like to get to know authors in person, and this helps them be more interested in and enthusiastic about the project.
So I met with her and I liked her well enough, but we spent 90% of the meeting talking about her kids and her husband and her personal life. I think it's fine to get to know each other beyond the immediate project at hand. For example, it's important to me that the people I work with are aware that my life involves a family (including a young child) as well as my research and teaching -- but in this case I wish we could have spent more time talking about books.
Maybe I am missing some sort of bonding gene that would allow me to value this personal interaction with a business associate. I kept trying to turn the conversation to some new ideas that my co-author and I had recently discussed for a new book, and these ideas were well received, but the conversation always turned back to the woman's troubles with one of her children or decisions she was making about her kids' education.
I greatly sympathize with her difficult personal life and admire her for her successful career in publishing, but given the limited time of our meeting, I think we should have used the time more 'efficiently' (see earlier post this week). Is this evidence of my lack of compassion for people dealing with major obstacles in life? Am I incapable of valuing an interaction of this kind? My own answers to these questions are no to the first question and perhaps to the second. If this woman were a friend or close colleague, I would give her all the time she needed to talk about whatever she wanted/needed to talk about, but in this case I think it was an inappropriate use of a business meeting, even one whose apparent purpose was for us to 'bond'.
For me it was more of an anti-bonding experience. I hope to avoid in-person meetings with this woman in the future, even though I feel sincerely sympathetic about her problems. I think I conveyed my sympathy, even if I did (gently) try to change the subject a few times.
When I compared notes with my co-author about an earlier meeting he had with this person, he had a very different experience. They mostly talked about book ideas, though she did share a few pieces of information with him that she also shared with me (e.g., her age).
I repeat: lucky for me my co-author excels at this type of scientist - non-scientist interaction. As with research collaborations, it is nice to be part of a team in which the strengths of various people on the team can be used in different ways (i.e., effective ways, to use the Word of the Week). This also makes the work overall more successful and fun for everyone.
6 days ago