Alice and Betsy are about to miscommunicate unless you rush in to save them!

by Pace on February 10, 2010

Here’s an interesting example of how different people can read very different things into the exact same words.

Imagine this.

Alice and Betsy are emailing each other in an attempt to make plans to meet. Betsy initiated the attempt, they’ve already agreed on a location, and now it’s gotten down to picking a time.

Alice volunteers, “I’m free every Saturday and Sunday, from morning until 3:30 in the afternoon.”

Betsy replies with, “I’m available every evening after 8, and all the time on weekends.”

What, if anything, would you assume about Alice and/or Betsy based on this reply? What might you guess about their intent, reliability, level of personal responsibility, or desire to actually follow through on these plans?

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer "Scraps" Walker February 10, 2010 at 11:20 am

First, it doesn’t seem like Betsy actually *read* Alice’s reply. If she had, and knowing as we do that her schedule seems a bit more open, why wouldn’t she have proposed a time on a Saturday or Sunday before 3:30pm?

Of course, this also sounds like one of those: I don’t know, what do YOU want to do, conversations where neither has a real plan and no one wants to be the decision maker. If I really want to see someone, I usually have a plan A and a plan B to propose.
.-= Jennifer “Scraps” Walker´s last blog ..MegaCon 2009 =-.


Inge February 10, 2010 at 11:42 am

This is a hard one, for the people involved are imaginary and there is no context.

It seems to me that Alice only wants to meet in the weekend and apparently not in the evening. Reasons for this might be that she actually can’t meet in the evening, or Betty might be notorious for not going home early and Alice doesn’t like staying out late, or Alice wants a definite end time (because she is not _that_ fond of Betty or because of the all-nighter problem), etc.

Since Betty is the initiator, I assume she really does want to meet. Her response, in which she doesn’t pick an available time, would tell me that she might prefer an evening and/or a week day, but she doesn’t say that directly. She might be uncomfortable making a decision and wants Alice to do that. Or she hasn’t really read Alice’s message like Jennifer said.

Assuming the friendship is genuine from both ends, this is what I would have done:
If I were Betty, I would assume that Alice had other plans in the evenings and pick a time in her available range. If I would prefer evenings, I would say so and ask if another week would be better.
If I were Alice, I would have said why evenings are unavailable (‘I have other meetings’), stated the available time range _and_ suggested a time. Maybe even add that in the week after there would be more time or some such.


Stacy February 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Hmm. It just looks to me like Besty either didn’t get Alice’s e-mail, or didn’t read it carefully for some reason; poop happens. I don’t think I’d make any assumptions about Alice based on just that, unless there was a pattern of either missed communication (maybe she is emailing from her iPhone without checking her email, for instance) or a pattern of not paying attention (she got it and just didn’t read it carefully- that’s more annoying). If I were Alice, I’d probably send something like “okay, since I’m free up ’til 3:30 on Sat. and Sun., then how about [pick my most favorable time within that range, since Betsy said she's available all weekend]?”

If you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, this seems to be an issue with that last scale- which is the one that measures how organized/schedule-loving you are (or spontaneous/flexible on the other end). I’m in the middle, and deal with people on either end. I’m guessing Betsy might not be the most organized person in the world- which isn’t a flaw, just a feature. Being a switch on this scale, I’ll tend to be more schedule-y or more spontaneous depending on what the interaction seems to be most in need of. No big woop.


Kai February 10, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I agree with Jennifer that it seems like Betsy didn’t actually read Alice’s response.
And if she did, I’d assume she doesn’t want the responsibility of choosing a time.
If I were Betsy (and sincerely interested) I would have offered up a time on Saturday or Sunday.
If I were Alice, after receiving Betsy’s reply, my first assumption would be that she’s interested in evening time. So I would respond with the next open evening time I had available.


BunnyKissd February 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm

It seems like to me neither wants to inconvenience the other in anyway, so is leaving it open for the other to make the decision. However, since Betsy initiated, but didn’t give a specific time after Alice said when she’s available, maybe she’s just making the gesture because *it’s the right/expected thing to do* not necessarily because she *wants* to see Alice. If I were Alice I would reply, “Ok then how about…” and suggest a time on the weekend a few hours (depending on how long I really want to hang out with Betsy) before 3:30.
.-= BunnyKissd´s last blog ..Valentine’s Day Traditions =-.


Farah June 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm

I just loved the thank you card. (Actually, they were all fantastic) How prttey. I would love to receive a card like this, better yet, I would love to make a card like this. While at Betsy’s site, I read some of her other posts. Wow, she has some great projects to inspire me. I have never used the SRM stickers, if I don’t win any, I am going to go find me a few to use. Thanks for sharing.


Andy February 11, 2010 at 12:45 am

Alice is being more specific by not only mentioning a specific time, but specific days as well.

Betsy is giving a broader range, by including when she’s avaliable during the week.

Maybe Alice just wants to meet up on the weekend, and Betsy is telling her she’s avaliable weekday evenings to give her some extra options.

It doesn’t sound to me like either of them are *not* interested in meeting up. They’re just comparing schedules to figure out what the possibilities are.

I would probably reply almost exactly like Betsy did. I’d personally add a “Since we both seem to be free weekend mornings….” but either way, I’d want the person I’m talking to to know when I’m free (even if they aren’t) in case something else comes up and we have to re-arrange everything.


Raven's Star February 12, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Nothing. There is not enough information to assume anything about either of these people here. I’m completely perplexed as to most people’s reactions on this.


Rachael February 13, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I think Betsy read Alice’s response but is doing two passive-aggressive things:

1) Testing Alice to see if she’s ACTUALLY not free in the evenings
2) Making Alice pick a time

…because I don’t think she wants to meet on the weekends, otherwise she would have said something like “Anytime between noon and 3pm works for me” and then let Alice pick a SPECIFIC time during then.


Tanya February 14, 2010 at 1:48 pm

My take on it:
Betsy doesn’t want to pick the time. She’s providing enough information for Alice to pick it, but not saying “please pick the time”. There could be a lot of reasons for this.

The ones I have run into are:
* maybe Betsy’s used to people shooting her suggestions down. Maybe Alice does this to her regularly. So Betsy won’t make any.
* maybe Betsy didn’t read the response and is trying to provide more information to Alice, thinking she’s responding to the previous email.
* maybe Betsy thinks that Alice should have to pick the time because this is Alice’s meeting that Alice asked for and Betsy doesn’t actually want to go.
* maybe Betsy thinks she is being courteous to Alice by deferring to the person with the more constrained schedule.
* maybe Betsy thinks Alice outranks her and that it would be impertinent/improper to tell Alice what she (Betsy) wants.
* maybe Betsy just isn’t very proactive right now. She could be depressed, or recovering from a cold, or on pain meds due to her recent leg injury, but whatever the reason, she might not be feeling so great and might need help getting things moving.

And of course, there will be many reasons I haven’t encountered or didn’t recognize when I encountered them.

The only way to find out what the case is… is to investigate! :)


Jer_ February 15, 2010 at 8:54 am

From the perspective of a project manager… (and again, reading into it the same way we all are because we lack context) here is what I see:

Betsy has adopted the position of meeting attendee despite the fact that she initiated. I do this often when I am meeting with a client or vendor whose meeting attendance I cannot predict (as in, I want to leave no room for “you chose a time that was inopportune for me” or “sorry, you chose a time that only gives me a half hour to meet with you”, which vendors often pull in a power play situation)

Betsy has also issued a full disclosure list of availability. This can also be an important defensive maneuver, as it prevents this:

* Betsy tries to set meeting
* Alice gives her weekend availability as above
* Betsy says “let us do Saturday at noon”
* Friday, Alice bails, suggesting that it wasn’t a really great time for her, but since Betsy didn’t provide any idea as to her availability, what was she to do?
* Furor results

To be honest, I ‘Betsy’ rather often in a different, far more dick-ish way…I post my schedule ( ) on the web and if someone wants a meeting, I send them the link and say “pick a time”…that way I have little to worry about in terms of people misconstruing my availability.


Mark W. "Extra Crispy" Schumann February 15, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I’m taking this as a test of me, not Betsy and Alice. I think it’s interesting that I was kind of shocked by your question: “What, if anything, would you assume about Alice and/or Betsy based on this reply?”

Um, it would never occur to me to assume anything about either of them or even, you know, go there. It reminds me that I don’t look at social situations the way actual humans do, and that I tend to take things at face value.

What does this say about Alice? Maybe that she only has free time on weekends? Besty? She’s kind of a night person maybe?

Huh. You Earthlings are so cute and complex, very interesting, sometimes rather pleasant. But I will never understand your kind.
.-= Mark W. “Extra Crispy” Schumann´s last blog ..Rules for Radicals and Agilists =-.


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