A reader writes:
I am a staff member at a university. There is a large student event taking place in a few weeks, and I am tasked with sending reminder emails to students who haven’t properly submitted paperwork for the event. That list of students is generated by the office hosting the event, and I have no access to view which items have been submitted. As per my director’s instructions, I copied each student’s faculty mentor on the email to make them aware that the students were in danger of being dropped from the event. I received a response from a faculty mentor a few minutes later that told me, “He already submitted his paperwork. You should check more carefully instead of sending emails. This is really unprofessional.”
I feel embarrassed and frustrated, and I can’t stop obsessing over her words. I’m frustrated because I’m being scolded for not checking the submissions carefully enough when I don’t have access to the submissions in the first place. I just receive the list and pass the information along. I am embarrassed because a person who doesn’t know me made a judgement about my work ethic and professionalism when she doesn’t know me. There is a sharp divide between staff and faculty at my university (enough so that there have been meetings called to address this issue), and I feel like she’s talking down to me because I am not as accomplished as she is, but I don’t know if this is my own insecurity talking.
To add to the frustration, two people in my office are taking new positions. Due to heavy budget cuts, my university is facing a hiring freeze, and I am taking over both positions. In a matter of days, I went from an entry level receptionist to having major, complex duties that previously took two people to complete. I am literally in day four of my new job and I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the new policies and rules I have to follow. During this transition the only constant, unchanging factor is my work ethic and motivation to succeed. This email has made me question my professionalism, and I really feel disappointed.
How can I stop taking her email so personally? How can I stop feeling like a victim of her words, and learn to brush it off? How can I politely respond to her and stand up for myself? This is my first professional job and my first experience ever struggling at work, and I can’t find a way to compartmentalize my feelings.
You’re taking it way too personally. You’re letting someone who knows way less about the situation than you do control how you feel about it.
Her email actually said more about her than it does about you. Think of it this way: If you were in her shoes, would you have ever sent that response? It’s not a normal or reasonable response. In fact, if she wants to talk professionalism, it’s not a professional response.
It’s legitimate for her to be concerned that a student is being told he’s in danger of being dropped from an event when that’s not the case. But the proper response to that is to say something like, “Actually, Fergus submitted his paperwork a week ago. Can you re-check this?”
Her response was rude and unwarranted.
You shouldn’t be embarrassed because you work with a rude person. You shouldn’t take the emotional burden of feeling responsible for not checking the submissions over when you didn’t have access to that information in the first place. Your job is to receive the list and pass it along. You did your job.
I’d send this back to her: “I don’t have have access to the submissions myself, but certainly a mistake could have been made. I’ll ask the person who compiled the list to confirm with Fergus that she does indeed have his paperwork or to let him know if for some reason she doesn’t.” In other words, keep emotion out of it, and just politely explain the situation and what you’ll do with the information she gave you.
But she’s a jerk. Don’t give her the power to mess with your head.