How do I respond to a persistent former boss?
March 7, 2020 8:28 AM   Subscribe

She really wants to collaborate with me, but my negative past experiences are holding me back...

About 6 years ago, I quit my teaching job, and found an in-between gig as a helper in an after school program for kids (let’s call it fantARTstic). At the time, it was a good fit for me; it was in my neighborhood, I could walk there, etc. I spent about one year at this job (it was part-time and low-paying), supplementing with babysitting to fill in the gaps. I met a few lovely coworkers there. I left after about a year, moving on to a full time nanny gig with a new family, and beginning my own printmaking business.

The owner of fantARTstic (my boss) occasionally asked me to collaborate on projects after I left the job. She offered me an art show in the after school space, and invited me to be a part of various local craft shows. All nice things, which I accepted. She treated me more like a friend than an employee this whole time (while employed and after), but I think this dynamic left a bad taste in my mouth. She would often pay us late, but it was no big deal to her because we were all “friends”. If we had to call in sick, she would lay on the guilt and make us feel bad for staying home. We would be invited to “required” retreats, where she and the employees would travel up north and smoke weed around the fire (it was just... odd.) My coworkers mentioned these concerns, too. Generally, the feelings I had about her were negative. She acted passive aggressively and was manipulative. Generally unprofessional as a boss.

Over the years since I left the job, she’s reached out to me numerous times wanting to collaborate, or asking for me to make her a custom print with a corny phrase. I’ve agreed to a few of these things, but to the last few requests, I’ve responded that I have too much on my plate and don’t have the capacity to take on any extra projects right now (which is true! My printmaking business has bloomed, and I’m still working for the same awesome family). Whenever I respond to her, she goes silent. This week I heard from her again, and I again replied that I’m unable to take on anything extra. She responded, “so does this mean you will NEVER be able to collaborate with fantARTstic or just right now? Just curious...”

I don’t want to blindly burn any bridges down, but our circles don’t really overlap anymore. I’ve moved out of that neighborhood, and now live happily in the neighboring city. I feel bad about this, but I really don’t want to work with her, ever. I have always been gracious with her, and thanked her for the opportunities. Maybe she’s confused about why I was open to working with her in the past, but have declined several times since then. Which makes sense. She’s probably thinking, what did I do?

How would you reply to this message? I’m really stuck on this. I don’t hate this person, I just don’t want to work with her because of how difficult she is to work and communicate with.
posted by sucre to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Include "for the foreseeable future" in your declining response.
posted by Dolley at 8:32 AM on March 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

There's nothing to be gained by a candid answer. I would take a page from the Guess culture playbook and simply not respond, continuing to decline politely due to lack of capacity should she ask again.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:37 AM on March 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you told a white lie about your plans going forward would she be able to figure out it wasn’t true? For example, if she always asks to collaborate on one type of item (widgets) and you said “Unfortunately we’re just not doing widget collaborations for the foreseeable future!” Or if she works for a specific type of business (community art center), say “We decided not to do collaborations with community art centers anymore because we got swamped! I’ll miss collaborating with you and thanks for the opportunities through the years.”
posted by sallybrown at 8:44 AM on March 7, 2020

How about an “I can’t right now, but I’ll let you know if that changes.”

Keeps the ball out of her court (though of course she may not respect that). If she keeps coming back, just broken record the same response until she gets fed up of asking/gets the message.
posted by penguin pie at 9:03 AM on March 7, 2020 [17 favorites]

I think it depends how much you'd like to just never hear from her again.

If that's a desired result, then something like "I'm getting really busy with my work here so I'm probably not going to be a good resource for you going forward... hope you find someone!"

If you want to keep the possibility open for the future while still turning her down right now, maybe something like "hard to say, but right now my plate is full. I'll let you know if that changes."
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:09 AM on March 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

That's weird pressure to apply, and For theforseeable future is a very good response.
posted by theora55 at 9:40 AM on March 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's weird--she probably just wants to know if she should continue offering you jobs or if she's wasting both your time! I like fingersandtoes' response choices--the first one says pretty clearly and politely not to bother any more.

From her point of view, you're a possible resource, and you do sometimes say yes, so unless you're clearly not available, why would she not check with you?
posted by lemonade at 10:49 AM on March 7, 2020

She's probably not thinking about it in a bad way or being upset. She likely just doesn't want to keep bugging you if you're not interested. So just say "I appreciate you thinking of me, but honestly, at this point I'm so swamped with other stuff and I don't see that changing any time soon. I will reach out if I need more work, though--thanks!"
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:26 AM on March 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

Please consider not saying "... hope you find someone ..." unless you truly, authentically do. If you couldn't sincerely wish her well that would just be passive-aggressive and she'll sense that on some level. It'd leave a bad taste for both of you.
posted by dancing leaves at 4:18 PM on March 8, 2020

It sounds like she never learned how to make friends and so she has instead lived her life trying to pressure/force employees into friendship roles (while not really treating them in a friendly manner; forcing them to do things, et cetera).

Yeah, I think I would reply that because your plate is so full with other responsibilities, while you wish her the best, you don't see having any extra time for collaborations with fantARTstic in the foreseeable future.
posted by blueberry at 11:27 AM on March 10, 2020

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