is this email from my coworker manipulative and weird?

A reader writes:

I have a rather odd situation at hand. At my current job (that I’ve had for about 6 months), I hit it off with a coworker who works in the same division but not the same department. She was very enthusiastic about how I handle my role and how I dilligently handle sticky situations – wonderful, I love people who provide me with feedback (especially the good kind). We had a couple of lunches and she offered to do a career assessment for me (also very cool). It took me 3 months from when she sent that assessment (it was an online thing) to get it done – my job had ramped up and I had multiple deliverables on the go. In any event, I took the time and got it done.

Now she needs an hour to let me know how I did – great – just that my schedule doesn’t have the flexibility for an hour that I can realistically commit to her. (I literally didn’t see my family for a week) That’s the nature of my job, and pretty much everyone who deals with me knows that and that my time is very precious.

Today, I got an email from her telling me that this is the last chance she’s giving me to make time for her and that I’m avoiding her and that I shouldn’t. I was slightly taken aback by this. I pride myself on being emotionally detached from my work – and her (for lack of a better word) outburst caught me completely off guard.

I emailed her back and let her know that my schedule is quite hectic and that I definitely remember that we have to chat about the assessment. This was something I was quite interested in. However, now I’m slightly uncomfortable and I’m not sure that I do want to give up an hour of my time to someone who, from my point of view, tried to emotionally blackmail my time from me. (I probably am overreacting – but it just felt so bizarre.)

Maybe this is something that is probably far more important to her than it is to me, but giving me ultimatums and telling me how I feel feels a lot like manipulation and bullying to me – am I completely off base?? Any idea on how I should handle the situation without making her feel bad or letting her making me feel guilty?

Here’s the email she sent:

Hi ___,

It is NOT too late to meet and do the debrief on your Energy Leadership Index assessment!!!

I sense you have been avoiding this issue, and therefore avoiding me… and please don’t think that I hold anything negative about you for it.

I think you would benefit from going through the debrief process and closing the loop.

It takes an hour… that’s it. I have the time.

Let me know.

In response, I told her, “Thank you so much for your email. I have actually been thinking about the hour we need to schedule to talk about the ELI report – it is on my to-do list. So you’re most certainly on my mind. As you might know, the last 3 months were quite hectic. We are expected to go down into a lull soon. I am very interested in what you have to say, and please do not take my inability to commit to a time as avoidance. Until recently I hadn’t been able to give my son time. So as things slow down, I will be able to commit to a time.”

In response, she sent me this:

Well, we are all busy. We have to make time. I hope that you will make time for the ELI report, otherwise you have wasted both your time and mine and as you have mentioned time is precious.

If you cannot schedule the 1 hour in the next week, I wouldn’t bother.

Well, first, I’m wondering about what’s up with a coworker offering to do a “career assessment” for you in the first place — what’s her expertise here? And what’s her motivation? Is this a hobby for her? Something she’s developing as a side business? I’m dying for more context here.

Anyway … yeah, her last email is outright snotty. Her first email feels a little off too, but I might be overly influenced by her triple exclamation points and the “I sense you have been avoiding the issue and therefore avoiding me” (which assumes a lot and feels tone-deaf and oddly intimate). But the second one is rude.

To be clear, I can understand why she’s frustrated. She invested time in this on your go-ahead. (And yes, she’s the one who made the offer, but when you accepted it, you were telling her that you were on-board.)  After all, imagine that you learned that a coworker was really interested in, I don’t know, farming turnips. And you happen to have a special interest in turnips, so you offer to analyze the soil in his yard and make some recommendations about how he could start a flourishing turnip business. He says he would love that, so you go off and spend an hour or two analyzing the soil in his yard and deciding on the varieties of turnips that will grow best there, pulling the best information from your extensive turnip files on root cellars in case he wants to grow them indoors, and coming up with a few different marketing options for his future turnip crop. And then when you tell him you’re ready to talk through what you’ve found, he doesn’t bother to meet with you. You’d probably be pretty dismayed — and annoyed that he let you spend your time that way. It wouldn’t be emotional blackmail for you to say, “Hey, I put time into this at your request, and I’d like to close the loop.”

But that’s not how she’s handling it. She’s being rude, and that’s not okay (and it raises the question of whether you want advice from someone who communicates like this). If she’s frustrated with the delay and wants to put a deadline on this, she could have said, “I’m hoping we can meet about this because I put quite a bit of time into preparing for it. If we’re going to finish this up, I’d like to plan to do it in the next week; if that doesn’t work on your end, I’d prefer not to do it all, because at that point too much time will have passed.”

In any case, I could argue this two different ways: On one hand, this is a commitment you made, she spent her own time on it as a result, and you want to be someone who keeps your word. On the other hand, that obligation weakens when someone starts being rude about it. Of course, you’ve also got to factor in maintaining good relations with a coworker, and I’m generally a fan of taking the high road even when someone else is being rude, so … how about this: “I certainly didn’t intend to waste your time and as I said, I very much want to meet with you as soon as my schedule allows it. If you can’t do it after one week from now, I understand.”

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