She snooped in my Gchat and read unflattering things. Now she's mad. What to do?
September 24, 2010 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Law school student org drama. I'm the Pres of a very active student org. My VP is a good egg, but she's been acting "off" as late. I was talking with my Treas to figure out how to confront her about how she's been behaving. Plot twist: I then caught my VP snooping through my Gchat with the Treasurer. She didn't like what she saw. What's the best course of action, to help out all of us? Long explanation follows.

I'm the President of the Student Bar Association at my school. We have a solid team, but our VP has been acting strangely as of late. She's clearly very stressed and acting out. Most worrisome of all, she's been 1) extremely possessive/controlling of group projects, 2) not communicating what she wants, and then 3) getting mad/brusque/rude with people who don't do things the way she wants. It seems like a recipe for disaster down the line if we don't address this soon.

I was talking about this in my office over Gchat with my Treas. We weren't gratuitously derogatory, but we trying to figure out if she had been communicated what she claimed she had been communicating and figuring out what I should say to her when I could have some private time with her.

The conversation ended and I had to meet with a prof, so I closed the chat window and left. When I came back, the VP was at my computer, ostensibly printing something out. She got up and I looked at my computer - another tab was open on my computer, but on my Gmail tab, the chat window with my Treas was open again. The Treas had IMed the word "back", apparently flipping the window open again. The chat window did not have her name in it, however - all that was visible was "well, I guess everyone has her ups and downs" "I guess I'll talk to her in a friendly way before it gets out of hand" and such. It was obvious later that the VP had surmised - correctly, but having to use deduction - that "she" was her, and so she scrolled up and treated herself to the entire Gchat.

The VP never said anything directly to me, especially since there was a group of people in the office, but after I left for class, I found out that she was very upset and had confronted my Treas. She was very hurt and felt "backstabbed" that people were speaking of her in unflattering terms.

I called her, saying that we had something very important to talk about. She texted back saying that she had nothing to say to me, and that she was adamant about not talking about this. I have been told (through a game of telephone) that she wants to take a break from the org to clear her head. I'm fine with her taking a break, but I am not fine with her unilaterally doing so without speaking to me, especially since she does not appear to feel that she has done anything wrong.

This especially stinks because we share an office and we have projects that we need to do with one another.

I am, of course, pissed that someone would read my personal correspondence. It was not on her computer and it did not even have her name visible in the communication. I find her snooping to be a clear ethical violation. We can't function if we have to live in her police state. Her behaving like this will also not help her out in future employment situations.

I am also conscious of the fact that we're all human, and that no one likes reading bad things about themselves. She's normally a good worker and perfectly fine to be around, but her stress level has been bringing up some negative character traits. She strikes me as someone who pursues excellence, but sometimes to a fault, mistaking stress for results and persistence for success. I'm especially concerned because she has had boundary issues in other contexts before, leading to enmity with some faculty and some students. I would much rather have this event be a slip-up and an isolated storm, as opposed to a sign that she's going to be an all-around problem for this coming year.

I'm also sensitive to the fact that, since this does bring up some ethical issues, that this situation could get delicate if I were to have to bring this up with a faculty advisor. It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but I would much rather she simply learn her lesson now and get on with life than give her conversation material for the Character & Fitness board. I'm also not really interested in bringing in faculty when this is an internal issue and we're all ostensibly adults. Then again, whatever happens happens.

And so, my question is how to address her behavioral issues without getting overly blame-y? What would be the most effective way to let her know that she's valued here, but also that there are things we need to address?

Also: I have already asked her in the past, repeatedly, if things are okay, if any work needs to be done, if anything is delegable, etc. If she's overwhelmed, it's not for lack of other people trying to help out.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is it possible that she's avoiding you because C&F issues are exactly what she's afraid of and why she's adamant about not talking to you about it? If that could be it, it might help to start out the conversation however you can reach her, email, text, whatever, that you're not going to talk to her about "what happened in the office" but just about general issues.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:36 PM on September 24, 2010


I think you should leave her alone. It's a student org tempest in a teacup, you and her don't get along, drop it and move on. For you to bring this to a faculty adviser would be a dick move.
posted by facetious at 6:46 PM on September 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


A couple of things...

1) Does she need your permission to step down from her position? If not, then she can in fact do so without speaking to you and only you, although from a group standpoint, she should formally announce this to the exec board of the SBA, not just go off in a huff. Surely you have bylaws that address this kind of thing. As president you could approach her about her plans by saying, "If this commitment is becoming too much for you I understand if you want to turn your responsibilities over to someone else, but our rules say x, y and z about this. You can't take a break but hold your seat. If you need help coming to a decision I will be happy to listen to what you have to say without prejudice."

2) Interpersonally, you need to confront her about how her behavior is affecting your ability to get things done in your organization. If she flees from conflict, this absolutely has to be framed in as gentle a way as possible, or else she won't listen and think she's being personally attacked by you. If you approach it as, "Listen, I know you saw something I never intended you to see, and I hope you weren't hurt by it. Honestly I'm very confused about how you've been acting lately, but you are a difficult person to approach about this type of thing. I hope by now you know that I am a peer looking after a peer, and my responsibilities to SBA are as important to me as they are to you."

3) Re: ethics, don't even go there. Yeah, it was questionable if she read your chat, but ... attractive nuisance and all that. It is what it is. Deal with the fallout, don't make the molehill into a mountain.
posted by contessa at 6:51 PM on September 24, 2010


Something that really jumped out at me in your writing is that you seem to see yourself as her superior rather than her equal (because you're president?). I assume you're actually both students. I wonder if this is showing in your interactions with her and making her less comfortable or willing to discuss either of these things with you.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:52 PM on September 24, 2010 [16 favorites]


I'm fine with her taking a break, I am not fine with her unilaterally doing so without speaking to me, especially since she does not appear to feel that she has done anything wrong.

I think a person can step away from a position like this for absolutely any reason whatsoever without checking in with anybody, and you should let her do it. Send her a note saying that she is welcome to take a break for as long as she likes, and that you look forward to talking with her when she has thought things over -- but that ultimately straightening this out situation out between the two of you is not negotiable if she is to return to her post.
posted by hermitosis at 6:53 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think one possible way to get her to listen to you and possibly work with you again is to call her and 1) apologize to her for discussing the problem with your VP rather than talking to her (work with me, I’ll get back to that), 2) let her know how much you have appreciated her work, and 3) you and other people on the team do need her and would like to work with her. Can you meet and discuss it further? If it actually gets to a meeting, apologize again and discuss how to work together.

OP, when I read this, there are a lot of unknowns but I wonder if you did do some actions that weren’t that great. You were discussing this in chat but then left it open in an office that is used by everyone? Is this really your personal computer or a computer that is for the club? Those are 2 different scenarios, but if it was for the club, of course she would use the computer.

The other red flag that leaps out at me is that you had an electronic correspondence and again, left it open. I’ve worked at a few places where people either nearly lost their jobs or removed from accounts because they discussed how they did not like a peer or had problems with a peer or client and then inadvertently sent it to them. For myself, I never send stuff like that over anything that can be captured and/or go to the wrong person. Personal conversations if i think it is that important.

On preview, nthing cowbell. There is something in the tone of your post that is problematic. Are you an actual boss? From reading this I actually feel for the other person, let her step down if she wants to as this is a student club and is it really worth all this drama?
posted by Wolfster at 7:11 PM on September 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


On the broader problem:
we're all ostensibly adults.

You say this, and yet there's a patronizing tone underlying everything you say about her. Like if you just were able to constructively show her the error of her ways, she'd shape up and fly right.

As her peer, you can only tell her how her actions affect you, not how you suspect they affect everyone else. There's a vaingloriousness in extrapolating your personal responses to the greater population and I fear you're doing it. I'm sure at some level you just want to help her, but if you approach her with this attitude, you're going to get absolutely nowhere, because it's your problems with her that you're conflating into her problems. People are frustrating. People are difficult. Worse, it's rare that you can have a relationship with someone as deep and trustworthy so as to offer correction on "negative character traits" without generating defensiveness and obstruction. You do not seem to have this, and given the incident you've described with gchat, you never will.
As to the snooping, I think Wolfster has addressed that it is more grey an area than any ethics board would care to address.

In short, this seems like a scenario where you're going to have to figure out how to deal with a challenging personality, for yourself, and not try to just correct her for her own good.
posted by thusspakeparanoia at 7:26 PM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


[few comments removed - please dial it back. If you can not answer without being jerkish, it is okay not to answer.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:33 PM on September 24, 2010


Confession: I actually lost a law school friend and roommate in a dispute about control of the law school musical. Yes, you read that correctly. Ten years later, I regret allowing a voluntary school club become more important than my personal relationships. It's hard to think of her without cringing.

Learn from my mistake. Take the high road. Email her, tell her it's cool for her to take a break, you hope she feels comfortable rejoining the group when she's ready, and file it away.
posted by slmorri at 8:20 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I say I lost her, I don't mean she died, I just mean we "broke up." Sorry I wasn't clear.
posted by slmorri at 8:22 PM on September 24, 2010


Frankly, presumed adults who cannot resist the temptation to read things to which they are not privy are exactly the sorts of people who need to have a harder time passing the C&F portion of the bar admissions process.

I'd bring the entirety of the issue up with your faculty advisor, and ask for advice as to what you can do (this isn't about "fixing" your VP, it's about running the organization). It's likely that person will point out where you are contributing to this process and if the reading of private correspondence situation is actually innocuous, I doubt that person will try to make a federal case of it. If, on the other hand, it was in direct violation of some sort of honor code: all the more reason to make an issue of it.

If she wants to quit, I don't think that requires anyone's approval, but if she just wants to take a break (a more polite term for "not do her job") and that is harmful to the organization, that's another matter.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:26 PM on September 24, 2010


The best course of action is to just let it go and ignore it. She's neither your employee nor friend, so you've got no power or interest in making her play nice. Trying to teach her an important lesson is a waste of your time -- and if you haven't learned already, you will learn that your time as a lawyer is one of your scarcest and most valuable commodities. Cut your losses, ignore her, and carry on being the best law student you can be.
posted by Marty Marx at 8:28 PM on September 24, 2010


Frankly, presumed adults who cannot resist the temptation to read things to which they are not privy are exactly the sorts of people who need to have a harder time passing the C&F portion of the bar admissions process.

I'd bring the entirety of the issue up with your faculty advisor, and ask for advice as to what you can do (this isn't about "fixing" your VP, it's about running the organization).


What would OP report, exactly? That the VP, who shares an office with OP, was looking at the computer screen? The VP could come up with any number of plausible explanations for looking at the computer screen.
posted by mlis at 8:40 PM on September 24, 2010


I had a tl;dr answer which basically boiled down to:

1) On a semi-public computer (i.e. a computer other people use for printing or which is in a shared office), the person not logging out of a secure account would be punished much more severely than the person who happened to read an open, unlocked document popped up on the screen everywhere I've ever worked. In the government, in fact, you can get disciplined or fired for not securing your computer. I would not go to the ethics board with that, as I feel she did something questionable at best, but you were more at fault from any possible security standpoint. From what you say, she didn't even open a file or an email (an actual violation). She scrolled up in a window you left open and unlocked (and connected to the printer?). If you feel like these chats shouldn't be read, LOG OUT in the future.

2) You sound very, very patronizing in this question. It is not usually a peer's job to do an "attitude adjustment" on another peer. (Especially for somewhat premature "problems in the future.") You can pass on complaints from other people or monitor that the tasks actually get completed, and that's about it. You especially don't need to analyze her character and failings. In fact, I was starting to wonder if you were faculty or something from the tone of this question, but I suspect that's not the case. If you absolutely cannot stop yourself from saying something, talk about specific incidents and how it affected other people and the work of the club.

3) I think she does need to formally quit, preferably in writing. I do not see any reason she should talk this over with you or ask your permission, unless it is actually a formal requirement of resignation, but it does need to be official and not just secondhand gossip.

It sounded like she had issues going on that were none of your business and unrelated to the club. Wouldn't it be best in that case for her to step down with no hard feelings if something is keeping her from doing a good job and she knows it?
posted by wending my way at 8:46 PM on September 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Dear god, don't report her to the school for reading your gchat! That would be incredibly petty and would most likely backfire and harm your own reputation when it got around, making you look vengeful and silly. It's all out of proportion.

I think you need to take a step back and realize that you are not this woman's boss; not her professor; and not her friend. Her stress and character are none of your concern. Your working relationship broke down and she took the wise step of taking a break, yet you want to turn this into some kind of drama about proving that she has problems? Focus on getting your work done and remember that you're in law school, not jr high.
posted by yarly at 9:17 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


What would OP report, exactly? That the VP, who shares an office with OP, was looking at the computer screen? The VP could come up with any number of plausible explanations for looking at the computer screen.

It's not a "report" (your word, not mine). The faculty advisor for a student organization has the responsibility for dealing with issues like this and helping them reach productive and successful conclusions. I don't think keeping the information private does anyone any good.

If the chat-snooping was actually no big deal (an idea with which I whole heartedly disagree), then it shouldn't matter who finds out about it.

Do I think OP ought to call the bar association and tell them? No. Do I think he should forego the use of resources available to help this problem just to keep this a secret for her? Absolutely not. If the Faculty Advisor doesn't care, then it's not a big deal.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:35 PM on September 24, 2010


I think you're letting your own narrative about this situation obscure what's really going on and what should happen.

When I came back, the VP was at my computer, ostensibly printing something out.
Is she or is she not allowed/supposed to be using your computer to print things? You say "ostensibly" -- do you think she was lying, and that she went on your computer with the express intent to snoop? Unless there's behavior of yours toward her that you haven't mentioned, I don't see why she'd do this. So, she was on your computer to print something, in an office that is either shared or at any rate left open/unlocked for club members, and you left your Gmail logged on, with this chat window open or only minimized (I'm pretty sure that if you had actually x'd it out, your Treasurer's resumption of the chat would not have included the previous conversation in the new window). You are allowed to say whatever you want, but you certainly must be able to imagine how it would hurt someone to see this.

She was very hurt and felt "backstabbed" that people were speaking of her in unflattering terms. I called her, saying that we had something very important to talk about.
I assume you left a message, since she texted you back. Did you apologize at all in the message you left? Even a BS-political "I'm sorry that you were hurt"? Saying "we have something very important to talk about" sounds like you're a teacher or parent letting her know that she's in trouble and you're going to lay it down, ie, patronizing.

I'm fine with her taking a break, but I am not fine with her unilaterally doing so without speaking to me, especially since she does not appear to feel that she has done anything wrong.
Notwithstanding any specific rules of your club, people are usually allowed to unilaterally quit, even if they've done something wrong. You might feel deprived of your opportunity to unload whatever you want to say to her and make sure she understands whatever you want her to understand, but she is (probably) within her rights to quit without your permission.

We can't function if we have to live in her police state.
What?? I'm guessing this has something to do with things that you haven't mentioned, because otherwise I have no idea where you're pulling "police state" into this. The only "action" she has taken against you as a result of snooping is feeling upset and wanting to take a break from the club.

Her behaving like this will also not help her out in future employment situations.
None of your business.

...This situation could get delicate if I were to have to bring this up with a faculty advisor....I'm also not really interested in bringing in faculty when this is an internal issue and we're all ostensibly adults. Then again, whatever happens happens.
Whatever happens happens? Why would you "have to" bring this up with faculty? It's your choice, isn't it? Or is this a consequence you'd like to hold over her head to help her "learn her lesson"?

Send her an email. APOLOGIZE. Say that you've been worried about her lately and have noticed that she's seemed upset and stressed. Say that you're sorry that she found that out the way that she did, that you now realize that you should have gone directly to her with these concerns first instead of talking about it with another club member. Say that she is a valued member of the group but you understand if she feels the need to take a break. Say that you hope she will come talk to you about any problems she's having with how things are working in the club.

If you two do get the chance to talk, ask her about any problems she's been having with the club because you noticed during incident x that she was acting uncharacteristically whatever, and you wonder if there is something she'd like done differently or something that's difficult for her. LISTEN. Maybe there's something going on in your club that you don't know about. It's not necessary to bring up "Well Jane feels this way, too; actually everyone's been noticing it." That's hurtful and unhelpful and will contribute to her feelings of isolation and betrayal.

At the end of all of this, if you two decide that she is going to continue on in the club, you can mention that you know that you were partly at fault for leaving your Gmail/chat unsecured, and that anyone would probably have been very tempted to do what she did in that situation, but you did feel violated that she'd read your personal correspondence; however, you want to put this whole thing behind you, so you two should just shake hands and look forward to a great year. It's not necessary to go into how you hope it doesn't happen again and you hope you won't have to bring in faculty, etc. All of that is obvious.
posted by thebazilist at 9:45 PM on September 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


I think you are taking on too much responsibility here: She isn't "your VP" (she's the Association's VP) - if you were friend, you could offer to help with her personal issues, but it doesn't sound like you are. So it has to come down to conduct and ability to do duties as VP.

So since it's not a clear to us as it might be to you - maybe you should re-assess. And if her behavior (the "stressed and acting out/extremely possessive/controlling of group projects/not communicating what she wants/getting mad" stuff is a situation that breaches Association by-laws and her duties as VP, deal with it through those by-laws. But if it isn't, you should let it be. If it's a democratic Association, ineffective and unpopular officers are handled by the voting system.

And the 'snooping' thing?? - We readers here don't know who's computer it was, but you told us the office is shared with the VP and the computer was available for others to read and it was an IM-chat between two officers of the Association about a third officer of that Association - so it's isn't exactly clear that it is even a 'personal correspondence'. I can certainly see how that person could feel that was inappropriate for you two to be talking about her. Just because you didn't want it to happen, doesn't make it snooping.
posted by Xhris at 11:01 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm fine with her taking a break, but I am not fine with her unilaterally doing so without speaking to me, especially since she does not appear to feel that she has done anything wrong.
Not everything is a teachable moment. Leave her alone.
posted by caek at 2:22 AM on September 25, 2010


FWIW: Student Bar Associations are what amount to the "student government" body at law schools.

It's this kind of crap that makes a lot of people roll their eyes at "student government" positions on a resume. You're in law school, probably a 3L, which means you're 24 at minimum. Be an adult and handle this face to face with your VP or just forget about it. You've got, what, six months to deal with each other? What's the worst that happens? Don't go whining to teacher. You will be wasting their time and they will think less of you.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 6:25 AM on September 25, 2010


I think you should leave her alone. It's a student org tempest in a teacup, you and her don't get along, drop it and move on. For you to bring this to a faculty adviser would be a dick move

Lawyer here. If the code requires reporting, you must report. This is law school and they expect you to treat the code like the code of professional responsibility. That's how serious this stuff is. One of my first cases was defending a former student on honor code violations. The former student paid me 10k to defend them. This is massively serious.

Make sure the code calls it a violation. Suggest you write a full memo to file describing the incident and whether it constitutes a violation, applying the code to the facts.

The memo to file saves you if you find it is not a violation, because then you can argue mitigation for failure to report, your analysis differed.

Otherwise, you could face sanction for failure to report. Take this very seriously, because the school will.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:09 AM on September 25, 2010


Ironmouth - it's ok, OP reported it to Askme.

But on a re-read OP's actual question ("And so, my question is how to address her behavioral issues without getting overly blame-y? "), it seems there might be something in ironmouth's point.

Both the VP and OP have possible ethic/code violations they each need to consider reporting - that gives them common ground; and a reason to communicate properly with each other. Maybe, OP, that would be the starting point for your next conversation with the VP.
posted by Xhris at 10:02 AM on September 25, 2010


Respectfully Ironmouth, that's nuts. This is a personal issue between them basically equivalent to overhearing gossip, not an honor code violation. Academic honor codes are intended to prevent cheating and it would be wholly frivolous and vindictive, and practically an abuse of process, to try to turn this into an honor code violatoin.

There may be some way where you could reaalllly stretch the facts and the code to make this a violation, but there's no obligation to report every imaginable violation of the code. I mean, if this kind of thing is a violation, would cheating on and lying about it to your girlfriend who is also a law student be a reportable violation?
posted by yarly at 10:05 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the OP:
• Reading my question and seeing the responses, I'm seeing more and more that I was being a bit of an ass. It's not my intent to be patronizing, but if that's coming through in my tone, then clearly I my own issues that I need to work on.
• I think I'm just going to apologize for not coming to her first and for taking her and all of the great things she does for granted. Let her know that she can take some time off to do whatever she likes and that we'll leave a light on for her. She really is a great person, despite the context and tone of my question. I think an ironic thing here is that whatever "teachable moment" here is really for me - I was griping about someone and that person "overheard," so now I have to deal with the consequences of being the guy who complains about people.
• I have no desire to go to a faculty member at this stage, precisely because that would be a dick move, and I don't predict that'll be necessary. "Tempest in a teacup" is right on point. I don't think this sort of thing really moves the needle as far as ethics violations go - she wasn't hacking my email or stealing test answers or whatever. She scrolled up in a chat on a computer screen.
• What was weird about the computer is that we each have our own computers in a smallish office, but that's a nitpick regardless, because there are plenty of reasons one might go to another computer to do something.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:54 AM on September 25, 2010


@Ironmouth: "this is massively serious". No, this is a personality clash between a couple of students. Why are you feeding this kid's already overblown Super-ego? Any reasonable, non-hysterical person out there (including lawyers) can tell the difference between not reporting a fellow law student for cheating on a final, and not reporting a fellow law student for some stuff I didn't see happen but I'm pretty darn sure happened because I'm all riled up and, besides, Presidents are the ones who fix, manage, and control everything and I'm the President, it says so right here! This kid needs to dial it down about 10 notches, and you're not helping.
posted by facetious at 12:22 PM on September 25, 2010


On rereading my own comment, my use of the word "kid" sounds condescending & strikes the wrong note, so I want to withdraw it and apologize.

On the substance, though - I'm sticking with what I said. There are 10 things the OP can "do" about this situation, and 9.9 of them will make it worse. Could aggressively mis-handling this situation turn it into a potential career-threatening ethics issue? Sure - but why would you want to do that?
posted by facetious at 12:59 PM on September 25, 2010


@Ironmouth: "this is massively serious". No, this is a personality clash between a couple of students. Why are you feeding this kid's already overblown Super-ego? Any reasonable, non-hysterical person out there (including lawyers) can tell the difference between not reporting a fellow law student for cheating on a final, and not reporting a fellow law student for some stuff I didn't see happen but I'm pretty darn sure happened because I'm all riled up and, besides, Presidents are the ones who fix, manage, and control everything and I'm the President, it says so right here! This kid needs to dial it down about 10 notches, and you're not helping.

You or I cannot say whether or not it is a violation of the code. We don't have the code in front of us. It simply depends on what the code says. Pure and simple. If there is anything in the code that says it is unethical, she's required to report. This is how it works with lawyers, a lawyer who negotiated a higher settlement on behalf of a client suing for malpractice by promising not to report the other lawyer was himself disciplined. And they will go after both parties if it gets out there.

If the code can be construed to be a violation, then you must report. No bones about it. I realize its a stupid personality conflict, and childish. That doesn't matter if the code says it is a violation. I've litigated these cases before. People actually hire lawyers to handle these matters, becasue the investment is so high.

The secret is to write your memo construing the rules so as it is not a violation.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:55 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


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