Should I respond to this email?
September 25, 2018 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I've been pushed around a bit by someone at work who is senior to me, but not my "line manager", and I've pushed back by resigning from the committee that he chairs. I am female, he is male. I was an active member of the committee and contributed significantly to it, and I became fed up when the chair kept expecting more and more from me, wouldn't take no for an answer, and ignored my concerns and suggestions regarding increasing the participation of women and minorities.

When I resigned, he tried several times to get me to return, as he claims the committee benefits greatly from my expertise. Now he wants to meet to discuss my reasons for leaving (already well-established, with my boss cc'd on the email) and to see if I can be persuaded to return (I can't). I haven't answered his email, partly because answering his emails is what prompted him to berate me about work he felt I owed him in the first place and partly because he's been very rude to me by email in the past.

My boss has said (not in the context of these emails) that while he is often rude over email he is more reasonable in person. I've had to (grudgingly) ask for his help with something since resigning from the committee, and although he wasn't always nice about it, he did help me with something related to his job description. I feel that he is still taking up more of my time than he deserves, and my instinct is to lay low and ignore him. Is the "silent no" the best way of handling this situation? I probably can't afford to piss him off, nor do I feel the need to appease him.
posted by stinker to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would, but a very very minimal response. Something like "As we have previously discussed, I have resigned from X committee. This is a firm decision." and CC your boss on the reply. Then, ignore all further emails on the subject. OR copy/paste that, until he stops asking.
posted by Fig at 8:45 AM on September 25, 2018 [17 favorites]

How I would (and have) handled such interactions was to tell PushyBoy that I was now concentrating on my primary job duties, and needed to prioritize those. Then, don't go back to the committee. Do help PushyBoy when it's a request that's in-line with your normal job duties. Do stay civil (not nice, not polite, just civil) to PushyBoy. But whenever he asks again about you helping with his committee, re-send the same email: that you choose to prioritize your job responsibilities. Just stick with that.

...but that's from someone with zero interest in being kicked upstairs, ever. If you want career advancement, that approach can backfire. I don't know how to handle such situations otherwise. I would try to find a group or committee or project that DOES encourage and nurture the type of participation you want. Otherwise, you'll spend lots of time beating your head against PushyBoy's wall-of-obstinate.
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 8:48 AM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure if ignoring someone that you sometimes need to work with is the best route. An good response might be to acknowledge the request, and say that you will "circle back" in a month or two, after focusing on some other tasks first. Which is technically true.

The demand to meet seems transgressive. I'd only meet with him if your own manager/supervisor were present as well. And only if your own manager/supervisor has agreed ahead of time to back you.

It doesn't sound like you have your manager/supervisor's backing 100%, though, which sucks.

Another course of action, which may seem over the top, is to explicitly express your thoughts and observations (avoiding any sort of subject "I feel" language), stating (in slightly more neutral and concise terms) what you said above. Send the email to this fellow, and cc your manager/supervisor. You may wish to give your manager/supervisor the heads-up first, though.

This should send a direct message, and will also be on file for any sort of HR process in the future.

That's the nuclear option, though.
posted by JamesBay at 8:49 AM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't be happy about it, but is it hard to drop by his office and say "hey, thanks for your help with x. I got your email about the committee. I need to focus on my core job duties (or whatever), I already sent an email with my reasons for leaving and I will not be rejoining."

If he's not in the same building or you'd have to schedule time, I might try calling / leaving a voicemail with an email to confirm you responded? But I would respond somehow, and ideally in a way that reminds him you're an actual human being and not just an email address. You've said you can't piss him off, which kinda means you have to appease him.
posted by momus_window at 8:54 AM on September 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

Ideally, you'd use Fig's script, but not if, as you say, you don't really want to tick him off. It sounds like your reasons for resigning are already in writing, and your actual boss knows about the situation, so you don't need to use email for that purpose. I think briefly dropping by (not scheduling a big formal "meeting") as momus_window suggests would be better. It will have less sting in a conversation than in an email. And be super-civil in all natural interactions.
posted by praemunire at 9:08 AM on September 25, 2018

"My boss has said (not in the context of these emails) that while he is often rude over email he is more reasonable in person. "

does not equate with

"when the chair kept expecting more and more from me, wouldn't take no for an answer, and ignored my concerns and suggestions regarding increasing the participation of women and minorities.".

Your boss is gaslighting you. You've already drawn a firm boundary. You've resigned. In writing. There's no more discussion to be had. Is there? The Line Manager is not going to change. In the face of that, you do not enjoy your time on the committee. End of story.

I would ignore his email and move on with the rest of your duties. And keep a sharp eye on your boss as well. He's telling you not to worry your pretty little head over a guy firmly and clearly tromping on your boundaries.
posted by vignettist at 9:18 AM on September 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

Yeah honestly, IF you feel like expending emotional labour on either of these two men, I'd choose your boss, who may be educable as to why it's important to support women when they state a firm boundary in the face of harassment from a male superior. Because that's what you're describing. Of course you may not feel it's worth it or wise to do that either.

In terms of responding to the pushy dude, momus_window's script above is the way to go. It's civil but still reiterates your boundary. But I'd send it in an email, not talk in person since you mentioned he's a bully. Yes, he may respond rudely by email but I'd rather deal with a rude email than being berated in person, PLUS you'd have evidence in writing. Which you should be keeping, by the way, in case you want to take your document to your boss/HR. He is harassing you and it sounds gender based.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:23 AM on September 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

+1 for the polite response documenting your boundary, otherwise it’s hanging out the and documented that you ignored him, which can (sadly) be construed as unprofessional.
posted by jbenben at 10:34 AM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

So I told him I'm busy with other (specific) things, and that it wouldn't be a good time to meet, but I'd reply to any questions he has by email, and he immediately replied and asked if we could talk by phone instead. I feel like every time I respond to him he uses it to push me a bit more.

Also, to clarify: my boss is a woman.
posted by stinker at 11:11 AM on September 25, 2018

"Can we talk by phone" is usually code for "I don't want documented."
posted by joshu at 11:20 AM on September 25, 2018 [53 favorites]

Would it help to set up a meeting appointment for a phone call, with a note for him to call you, and time it for about a week or two away? If you can string it out a little, he may drop it.

My own approach to a phone conversation would be to start out by asking if there is something specific you can help him with. Sometimes that helps by being slightly disarming, implies that you have a lot of things on but could help him out with a reasonable and contained request, and is very difficult to argue that you are being obstructive. Naturally you only help him with things that can be solved on that phone call, such as giving him information that you have in your head. Otherwise you can just suggest other ways of fixing that problem that don't involve you, such as looking things up, asking someone else, etc.
posted by plonkee at 11:33 AM on September 25, 2018

Can you ask your boss more about this? Is she really recommending that you sit down with a guy who has been bullying you? My supervisor has a lot of say in what committees I participate in. I'm sure she would be happy to email the guy about how my workload won't allow me to participate and that either she's assigned or will be unable to assign another staff member to take my seat. Relationships between departments are largely the supervisor's responsibility (I learned in supervisor training), so I would not hesitate to make this her problem.
posted by salvia at 11:57 AM on September 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

God that guy is a pushy asshole!

I apologize for assuming your enabling boss was a man. Even though I should know better, it still surprises and disappoints me when women enable a man to harass and bully other women. I know it's not fair of me.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:15 PM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Go to your boss right away and tell her the pushy guy won't stop harassing you. Make sure you use the word "harassment" at least once. Such as,

"Bob is still harassing me to rejoin his committee and it's making me uncomfortable, and distracting me from my regular work. Please intervene and get him to lay off so I can continue to deal with him in the future without fear of retaliation."

If she won't respond positively to that, then you have a sick workplace culture, and I don't know what can be done if people like that guy are tolerated, unless you've got a really good HR or ombudsman department. I've witnessed women, such as in IT, quit over bullying and harassment, not even sexual harassment, but refusing to cooperate or respond to requests for assistance, etc. And you'd better believe when she gave her exit interview, we were all in a big old room being schooled on harassment law. And that guy got a new boss, then a new coworker, and then he was no longer necessary and he disappeared, either quit or was fired.

You can also read about harassment at the EEOC website, and decide how far you want to go, but retaliation after reporting harassment is also against the law. Depends on how you feel about that, but you shouldn't have to keep putting up with this bozo.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:40 PM on September 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

he immediately replied and asked if we could talk by phone instead.

"I'm sorry, I am no longer a member of the committee, and it would be inappropriate for me to take on any committee functions."

Always respond by email. Always keep documenting. Stick to your position that you're off the committee.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:01 PM on September 25, 2018 [14 favorites]

nthing that moving communication to voice is a strategy to avoid documentation. Stick to your guns about limiting communication to email, but don't hint that it has anything to do with documentation. Rather say something to the effect that your schedule makes voice communication inconvenient and reiterate that you are happy to answer any questions by email.
posted by slkinsey at 2:31 PM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

> So I told him I'm busy with other (specific) things, and that it wouldn't be a good time to meet, but I'd reply to any questions he has by email, and he immediately replied and asked if we could talk by phone instead. I feel like every time I respond to him he uses it to push me a bit more.

Yeahhh, he keeps angling to control the situation to whatever is better for him. Why? Perhaps he's more comfortable with face-to-face interaction so that he can gauge tone. Perhaps he finds writing laborious and feels that talking is faster. Perhaps he has something to say that he doesn't want documented. Perhaps he is just going with what has worked better for him in the past.

Who cares, you don't owe him this accommodation.

"Sorry, that won't be possible. But as I said, I'm happy to reply to any questions via email."

When he pops by your office because he REALLY just wants to chat, be ready to give him a quizzical look and say, politely but firmly, "As I said, I am willing to discuss this over email but cannot do this in person. [Act very busy here, shuffle some paper and look distracted.] I don't know what you don't understand about this, I've been clear."
posted by desuetude at 2:55 PM on September 25, 2018 [17 favorites]

(Don't even explain why it won't be possible. Any explanation will just be fodder for him to push back and argue.)
posted by desuetude at 2:56 PM on September 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Say repeatedly over e-mail that there is no need to have a voice discussion because there is nothing that he can say to talk you into coming back. This is not up for discussion and debate. Just stonewall him over and over and over and over again. You know my reasons for quitting and there's literally nothing you can say to get me to come back. Don't let him have a "conversation" with you about this.

I don't know how well you can get away with this if your boss doesn't support you, mind you, but if it's possible for you to get away with it, don't give this guy the conversation he wants. He'll just continue to harangue you until you give in anyway. Stonewall, stonewall, stonewall.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:41 PM on September 25, 2018

I like a lot of these suggestions in the main but I wouldn't preface any of them with "sorry" since you don't have anything to apologize for and you shouldn't give him ammunition to think you do.
posted by ferret branca at 6:02 AM on September 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

"No." is a complete sentence.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 2:51 PM on September 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

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