The other evening, at the end of a long day, I sent out four emails. Collectively it had taken me the better part of two hours to compose them.

Diplomacy in writing is a tricky art–particularly, for me, in email. There’s less context than in most other instances. On a website–there’s usually something to give you clues: the URL may link you as being part of a school, or a news agency, a medical publisher, etc etc. There are other visual cues on the website. Those cues, I think, carry over even into RSS. Even when I haven’t visited the WebMD website for long periods of time, I still know of the context of a consumer focused medical publisher and a well known brand name.

On my blog some readers have the context of knowing me and others can hopefully get a sense from the tone when I’m being serious and when I’m jesting. Truly, can you always take one seriously who refers to herself in third person as a small mammal that lives in English gardens and eats grubs? Especially one who posts her own ridiculous comments on Sunday?

In email, it’s not always so easy. Yes, one has the “address context” (e.g. work email, home email, school email) and emoticons are very useful but still…. Especially when making a suggestion you have a feeling won’t go over well, it’s hard to find that diplomatic phrase for saying “I think that’s a bad idea.”

So there are words one uses, polite but unfortunately not as effective. Because to politely say that something is bad idea–you then get these people who don’t understand (either deliberately or unintentionally). You are then written off while they assume that they should go forward however they feel is most effective. It’s a delicate balance of being the polite hedgehog…and being the honest one who says “Quit being hard headed about this and give in before I get really ticked off–because really, I’m right.”

But I can’t say that so instead the polite hedgehog has put in a request to chat with the brilliant Jedi master of diplomacy for some direction on how best to get the point across without hurting feelings.

In the meantime I get to figure out how to politely, firmly and without negotiation tell the owner of the tow truck company who stripped the lug nut while changing my flat that yes, he will replace it and no, I’m not paying for it. The phrase “that’s unacceptable” leaps to mind.