an industry colleague is lying to me about a dispute we had years ago

A reader writes:

Six years ago, I was vice president of the board of a national advocacy body (Org A) that had a long-standing, mostly good, relationship with another national advocacy body (Org B). The two organizations had some commonalities but also quite well defined swim lanes.

While I was VP for Org A, Elsa from Org B had approached me and asked if I could be on a voluntary advisory group they were convening. Elsa assured me it had nothing to do with my board role at Org A, and it was a group of independent experts in the industry, with Org B just providing a secretariat. My board eventually agreed it wasn’t a conflict of interest so I joined.

Two weeks after the first expert meeting, Org A voted to resign their associate membership in Org B, in response to a disagreement about Org B’s new approach to something, although I think they just disliked Sven, the CEO, and decided to try and force some sort of change within the organization. I didn’t agree with the resignation but was overruled by a majority vote.

The day after the resignation was announced, I got an automated email saying Elsa had removed my access to the online platform being used by the expert group. I sent a couple of emails seeking to clarify if this was a tech issue or related to the resignation, but got no response.

Three days later, Elsa called me. She was on speaker with Sven. They confirmed I had been removed from the expert group, then proceeded to scream at me and tell me I was compromising my personal values by staying on the board of Org A. I calmly said that professionalism and kindness were two of my values, and that I would end the call if they continued to yell. They kept yelling so I hung up. I was shaken but chalked it up to Elsa and her team being unprofessional.

Two weeks later, the board chair of Org B called me and asked me to join their board, because they thought I had a useful skill set. I respectfully declined — partly because it was a conflict, and partly because I didn’t want to be managing Sven, who thinks it’s okay to yell at people and question their integrity.

Two years later I get a job with an organization that funds some of the work undertaken by Org B. I declared our previous history to my new CEO during the interview process, who wasn’t bothered — she understands it’s a big industry! I also resigned from Org A around the same time, because that was a conflict. I ended up meeting Elsa for a coffee when I started my new job, as we had to work together occasionally, and she apologized for how she had treated me during that phone call and we all moved on.

I’ve been in my current role four years and have a cordial relationship with Org B and Elsa. Org B has a reputation as being difficult to work with and they regularly have “reset” meetings with other organizations across the industry when they behave poorly, but I have generally gotten on well with their team since that apology.

Fast forward to today…

Elsa emailed the group of experts from the original panel, including me, asking us to share our experiences of the panel as a case study for successful cross-industry collaboration. I replied to Elsa and asked if she was sure I should be included because they had removed me from the group very early on.

She’s just replied and said, “Oh no, you were removed at the request of Org A, didn’t you know that? It was nothing to do with us. Love your work!”

Alison, this just … didn’t happen. I was the VP at the time, I would have known about that request, and my board was just as shocked as I was about what had happened. But … I can’t prove anything. The board has changed over, I no longer have access to those emails from that time, and it’s their word against mine.

Elsa and I have a previously scheduled coffee for next week to discuss a new funding proposal and I don’t know what to do. Do I ignore the email and pretend nothing ever happened? Do I cancel the coffee on some pretext? Do I respond to correct the record? I just don’t know.

Are there professional reasons for you to maintain a cordial relationship with Elsa? Does it benefit your current employer or you personally to be on pleasant terms with her? If so, the most practical thing to do is to just privately roll your eyes at Elsa’s rewriting of history, file it away as useful information about her lack of trustworthiness, and go to the coffee and conduct whatever business needs to be conducted.

To be clear, Elsa sounds like a mess. The phone call where she and Sven screamed at you, the accusations of compromising your values, her affiliation with an org so difficult to work with that they regularly need “reset” meetings with industry partners … she’s a mess.

For all I know, it’s possible that Org B removing you from their online platform was a reasonable decision in response to them being in open conflict with your employer, or maybe it was just petty retribution (although in the case of the former, they should have just owned it and explained the reason). But the rest of her behavior is bad enough that it doesn’t really matter.

As for her claim that you were removed at your employer’s request … it’s probably a deliberate lie to save face; she needs to work with you now and your current employer funds some of her organization’s work, so she’s trying to smooth things over and using deceit to do it. In fairness, it’s also possible that she genuinely doesn’t remember because it’s been years, but that too doesn’t really matter; we don’t need to figure it out because you’re not assessing Elsa as a potential employee or close friend. You already know she’s shady and not someone you’ll ever want to collaborate with closely.

So it really just comes down to what kind of relationship you need with her professionally. If it doesn’t much matter, feel free to cancel the coffee on some vague pretext and not reschedule it. Either way, though, I don’t see any reason why you can’t reply to her email with, “Oh, I think your recollection is wrong; Org B chose to remove me after Org A resigned its membership in B. Anyway, it’s water under the bridge now and I’ll see you on Tuesday.”

If she replies to debate that, just ignore. There’s no point in engaging further on it. And if she brings it up when you meet in person — which she would be foolish to do! — stick with, “It was a long time ago and I think we’ve all moved on.” The goal here isn’t to get both of you on the same page so you can have a relationship based on truth and genuine connection; it’s to conduct whatever business needs to be conducted and be done.

{ 119 comments… read them below }

  1. Peanut Hamper*

    I would just pop this into a mental folder labeled “Flakey Things Elsa Has Done” and then forget about it and move on.

    But I would definitely keep my eyes and ears open. Org B sounds like an absolute nightmare to work with.

    1. Venus*

      The mental folder is already pretty big if they are having continuous “reset” meetings with everyone. It really isn’t worth mentioning and OP should already have ears and eyes open so that Org B’s messes can be deftly avoided.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        I think it’s Org B that’s having all the reset meetings, not Elsa, but yep–there’s an even bigger folder for Org B.

        1. Venus*

          My ‘they’ referred to Org B overall, and if Elsa has been there 6 years then she’s a big part of it. The whole thing is a mess!

        2. Tio*

          If she called a colleague from a different company and yelled at her, Elsa is part of the problem and probably part of these meetings at some point

    2. ferrina*

      And I hope it doesn’t need saying, but never believe anything that Elsa says about anyone else.

    3. But maybe not*

      Yeah, as much as it would pain me to not set the record straight, I can’t imagine anything good or even satisfying coming out of it. It’s a good data point, nothing more.

  2. Marlo*

    It sounds like this happened six years ago, personally I’d forget about it and just deal cordially with Elsa to the extent you need to collaborate with her.

  3. OldHat*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Elsa equates Org A resigning to include removing OP from the advisory board. Meaning that Org A started this not Org B. Or that Org A forced this nd Org B had no choice. It’s BS, but the reality Elsa came up with.

    I’m of the mind to roll your eyes and ignore. It might be nice if Elsa lives in a different reality to get more context on where not to trust Elsa’s judgement. Though I doubt there is any benefit of figuring this out.

    1. TooTiredToThink*

      Honestly, because I want to try to give people the benefit of the doubt, I do wonder if there was a wire crossed there where anyone from Org A had their access removed automatically after they left Org B and no one thought to question it properly.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I was wondering if maybe Sven lied to Elsa and told her that Org A was insisting they do this.

        But it doesn’t really matter at this point anyway. Whether Elsa is lying or has misremembered events or was lied to or there was some sort of confusion at the time, it’s probably not worth untangling it all now. Especially since it seems like there are enough red flags around both Elsa and Org B in general that if she is lying or Sven was lying, it still doesn’t tell the LW much that they probably hadn’t figured out anyway, that these people are not to be trusted.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        The questioning properly happened when OP asked if it were a mistake. The response was the yelling meeting, so I think “genuine misunderstanding to begin with” it out the window.

    2. Brain the Brian*

      Yep, that’s my interpretation as well. Org B could certainly have seen Org A’s decision to terminate their membership in Org B as a decision to also terminate the participation of any Org A staff in any Org B committees and advisory boards. There are plenty of advocacy organizations that require you to be a member (or an employee of a corporate member) to participate in their committee work. I know that the LW says Elsa told them that their participation in the committee was “as an independent expert,” but that doesn’t mean they didn’t need to be a member in *some* fashion to be eligible at all.

      Regardless, it’s so long ago now that trying to push back will just make the LW look overly invested in past grudges — especially if Elsa is someone who seeks out drama and spreads gossip. I’d leave it at saying that your involvement was so limited and so long ago that you don’t have much feedback to provide. Elsa sounds like a necessary connection as a gatekeeper, even if a slightly crazy one.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I don’t think Elsa is necessarily someone who seeks out drama; it looks like she brings her own wherever she goes.

    3. Spero*

      I would lean towards that interpretation IF there hadn’t been emails questioning why her access was revoked and the yelling phone call. Surely, if Elsa thought Org resignation was OP resignation, OP’s ‘why was I removed, I don’t have anything to do with Org resignation’ would have cleared that up. If it HAD occurred as Elsa claims that would explain how OP has continued on without reflecting badly on Elsa rather than the truth, which is that the only reason OP has been able to carry on any relationship with Org B or Elsa after that disaster is that OP apparently has the professionalism and grace of a saint.

      1. Lexi Vipond*

        I don’t think it’s impossible. Org B believes that Org A’s resignation includes anyone associated with them, not just the organisation itself – maybe something was phrased badly, or maybe just because *they* would take all their toys home in the same situation – they’re already badly upset, and then OP comes along all innocent saying (from Org B’s point of view) “I know we said everyone, but that didn’t really mean ME, did it?”, and Org B blows their top.

        Then the yelling phone call becomes ‘how can you claim to support us when you’re still mixed up with THEM’ or some other kind of ‘disappointed in you’ business, and Elsa is left with an idea of OP as a good person led astray by bad company.

        I’m not saying that Org B aren’t messed up, but it’s not really surprising that messed up people would believe messed up things.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          It’s also not like the LW was some low-ranking peon at Org A who had no input into their decision to resign their membership in Org B. They may have personally disagreed with the decision and been overruled, but they *were* Org A’s vice president at the time. They had a say, and from the outside at least, the appearance of influence over the decision (in fact, in some setups, they would have had sole say over such things). It’s perfectly reasonable for Org B to have kicked them off the committee, in my view. The screaming phone call later on was unnecessary, of course.

      2. OldHat*

        Not necessarily. People are not always logical on their logic. Or consistent. Actions could be interpreted as a request.

        Elsa is probably pretty invested in Org B and may not separate the person from the organization. Someone with that mentally would consider Org A’s actions as speaking for OP. Or cutting OP off is a consequence of OP still associating with Org A. It’s not a large leap to think that Org A is to blame in Elsa’s mind. Give it enough time and Elsa misremembers this as Org A “requested” OP be removed.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      That is probably the correct explanation – Elsa genuinely equates Org A resigning with the OP resigning – it would certainly explain why Sven was upset with her, at the time (completely unprofessional on Sven’s part, and a very obvious example of why one should ask questions to gain understanding, rather than berating someone for something you assume they did.)

      It might be worth pointing out to Elsa that there is probably a miscommunication about the circumstances at that time – that all of the OP’s access was automatically revoked when Org A quit working with Org B, and that OP wasn’t able to get any response to f/up emails about it.

      I wouldn’t argue about it – just make the point and say it is water under the bridge, and that both Elsa and OP should ensure good communication so there aren’t future issues.

    5. ThatOtherClare*

      This could partially explain why Org B offered the letter writer a board position two weeks later. If being in the advisory group required being part of an organisation – any organisation – with membership in Org B, then perhaps Org A’s withdrawal triggered an automatic removal of LW from the board.

      They desperately wanted LW there, so they initially panicked and lashed out, then tried to fix the problem by bringing LW onto their board.

      All of which could probably have been fixed with one calm and logical phone call from Elsa. “Hi LW. Were you aware that Org A needs to be a member of Org B in order for you to be on the advisory board? No? Oh, ok, well unfortunately I’m going to have to revoke your access while you discuss this with Org A. We’d still love to have you on the team, so let me know if in future you become part of any org that has Org B membership – it doesn’t have to be Org A. Hopefully we get to work together again soon! Thanks LW. Bye.”

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Yes. A reminder for us all about understanding the important details of things like membership qualifications.

  4. Not on board*

    Not only is Elsa super shady, a liar, and gaslighter, but this also comes off as super patronizing. She could have just acknowledged that you were removed without going into the reasons why – regardless of what actually happened.
    Elsa kind of needs you more than you need her so I don’t think there would be fallout from setting the record straight but it depends on how much this bothers you.

    1. Silver Robin*

      It is really quite strange that Elsa decided to include OP on this. Like even if OP had left the committee for entirely benign reasons because of family commitments or something, the question of whether their perspective is helpful still stands. I am wondering if Elsa responded to that part of the question?

      Honestly, if I were OP, I would not have mentioned getting removed specifically. Something instead like “Seeing as I was only on the committee for a short period…” but that ship has sailed and I get why they wrote it the way they did.

      1. Venus*

        Yes, I was also surprised with OP’s response. I would have simply not responded to the request, and if I was later pushed for my input then I would have said that I wasn’t there long enough to contribute.

      2. OP*

        It did occur to me, straight after sending the email, that I should have ignored it. But here we are…

        1. Silver Robin*

          post-send clarity comes for us all! XD

          Elsa’s general behavior is so out of line though, I totally understand responding as you did. I mean, she could not have been serious, could she?

      3. Festively Dressed Earl*

        It’s possible that Elsa is having a hard time getting panelists to participate, especially if Org Org B’s messiness extends to past panels.

    2. Language Nerd*

      Not to be that person, but that’s not what gaslighting is. From the facts presented by the LW it seems that Elsa told a small lie about (or simply misremembered) an event 6 years in the past; she isn’t on an extended, drawn-out campaign to make LW question their sanity. Overusing terms like gaslighting, grooming, etc robs them of their meaning and waters down the severity of the impact these behaviors can have on their victims.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I agree that gaslighting is overused, but I think it is perfectly appropriate here

      2. Clorinda*

        Elsa is trying to change OP’s memory of OP’s own experience to force OP to accept Elsa’s version of reality. That is textbook gaslighting in my opinion.

        1. 1LFTW*

          Yes. I’ve been gaslit in both the truest sense of the term (by a severely abusive ex, who found entertainment value in deliberately undermining my belief in my own sanity) and in the more colloquial sense (by various people who have simply decided it suits their convenience to rewrite history).

          The effect on me is the same either way: I’ve wound wound up questioning my grip on reality.

        2. AngryOctopus*

          Come on. She said it once, and after 6 years may genuinely remember it that way.

          1. Language Nerd*

            Thank you. Every untruth or misunderstanding is not gaslighting. We already have a word for lying–lying.

    3. For the record*

      “Elsa kind of needs you more than you need her so I don’t think there would be fallout from setting the record straight but it depends on how much this bothers you.”

      This. Elsa wants funding from OP’s org. Possibly Elsa wants to give the appearance of “close relationship” with OP and to get collateral benefit of OP’s “participation” in the expert panel to further her own reputation and to demonstrate the success of the panel. Elsa sounds like a user, and now that she needs OP’s funding, she has to act like nothing untoward ever happened. It sounds like Elsa needs the relationship with OP more than OP needs the relationship with Elsa. I would set the record straight as said by Alison.

    4. Boof*

      It doesn’t change the action items for OP, but Elsa could also just be the sort who rewrites reality in their mind to whatever they want it to be – she may genuinely now think it happened that way, mostly because she wants it to be that way.

  5. Smithy*

    Making the assumption that you now work for an entity that is largely a donor/philanthropic entity, and Org B is an operating nonprofit – I think you can give Elsa a little grace for reverting to being overly deferential and flattering, and thus using face saving lies/misrepresentations.

    Reviewing Org B’s funding proposals a bit more attentively may be warranted given their overall reputation, but I think the reality of the power imbalance between donors and nonprofits can be so extreme that sometimes it doesn’t always result in the most professional of behaviors. Elsa may have been told by someone more senior she HAD to invite you, and is really just the face of this exchange that involves other people. I know that some of the most embarrassing emails I’ve had to send to donors weren’t emails I wanted to.

    If you have larger misgivings around partnering with Org B again, then I think it’s worth elevating those larger concerns. But unless this has a second episode in the near term, I think that giving Elsa a bit of a pass this time but definitely not again is a kind nod to that power imbalance which can result in behavior like that from more than one staff member with more than one donor.

  6. Hyaline*

    Unless I’m missing something in terms of why or how this rewritten version of the incident could harm you, I’d just let it go. You know the truth; Elsa will continue to deny it; anyone else acknowledging it doesn’t seem to benefit you any.

    But just because this omission/rewriting/blatant freaking lie was harmless, it doesn’t mean others later will be. I would be very cautious with Elsa. If the coffees are more to build rapport than they are necessary to conduct business, I’d pull back on them (not cancel this one, but just…be less available to her in future), and try to keep communications in a written format you can keep tabs on. I’d also keep any records or communications you think could be helpful later in case she tries to screw you over. She’s proven she’s willing to lie just to save face; who knows what else she’s willing to do. Keep an eye on her and be careful with the whole org. They sound pretty icky.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      “I’d just let it go” – pun intended, given the names? Although in all seriousness it probably is the best way to handle it.

      1. el l*

        When she speaks with Elsa, OP should hide, conceal, and don’t feel that she’s a liar.

    2. Sara without an H*

      What Hyaline said. It doesn’t sound as though Elsa’s in a position to do you any real professional harm, but she’s shown she isn’t reliable or trustworthy. Keep records, rely on email as much as possible, and be friendly, but distant.

  7. Susan*

    Even though I wouldn’t actually do this, I really, really want to say, “Gee, Elsa, you must have me confused with one of the many other advisory board members who left.”

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      Honestly, I am half assuming that Elsa has caused this kind of chaos so many times she’s not lying about OP being removed by her org, but has conflated it with another time she caused a board member to leave.

  8. HonorBox*

    I think the chances of getting into a larger dispute with Elsa if you try to correct the record is higher than not, and you potentially come away with egg on your face, too. But… There may come a time at your current workplace where information about Elsa and Org B and how they operate may be necessary in decision-making situations. This additional lie adds to what you know. But I don’t think I’d disrupt the present relationship you have with her/them to prove a point that you know she’s lying now. Just mentally file it away, and open that file at some point if needed.

  9. spiriferida*

    I think if you don’t want to confront her over it, you have a perfectly reasonable response that you can give to move past this. Just say something along the lines of “Still, my time with the group was short enough that I don’t think I can give especially useful responses, best of luck” and move on.

    It depends how much energy you want to invest in it, and how much you are going to need to keep engaging with her, whether you find correcting her over it worth it – and what you think the result of the correction would be. Whatever you do though, I wouldn’t blame you for keeping it in mind and possibly drawing back in the future.

  10. Sparkles McFadden*

    Be cordial to Elsa but remember that everything she says is suspect, so avoid her when you can. Many people just say whatever they need to in the moment to get what they want, and arguing with them about one lie means they will just tell some additional lies to support the first lie.

    It’s also entirely possible that Elsa has rewritten history in her head. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are people who don’t encode memories of what actually happened in the past. They encode memories of how they *wish* things had gone, and nothing you say or do will dissuade them. If you have emails, they’ll say the emails aren’t real. If you have photos, they’ll say the photos are of something else. It’s wild. It’s like they have to believe their own lies in order to keep track of them.

    It hardly matters if Elsa is just making stuff up on the fly or if she’s rewriting history. I agree you should just say “I remember things differently” or “I’d rather look forward that dwell on the past” and *let it go.* (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

    1. OP*

      Oh for sure – this is not the first time Org B has rewritten history to suit themselves.

      A couple of years ago my current employer offered them funding to run a snow-making project to a very strict criteria about the colour, size and shape of the snowflakes. They said they would, but only if we let them make ice sculptures instead. We said no, it was snowflakes or nothing, so they turned us down and we offered the project to someone else. (I have these emails).

      At the first industry-wide event to launch the new snow-making project, run by another organisation, Sven yelled at everyone that Org B had been completely overlooked and not given the chance to make snowflakes.

  11. BBB*

    I am far too petty of a person to just let her blatantly lie and not address it lol
    at the very least I’d drop a ‘that doesn’t match my recollection of events’ before changing the subject.
    and even if you much maintain a cordial professional relationship, I’d definitely put more distance between myself and this person going forward. she’s shown you who she is, believe her.

    1. Pillow Fort Forever*

      This brings to mind the great “Recollections may vary” line and I love it.

    2. Lizard the Second*

      I’d definitely want my own email record of correcting her recollection, just so she can’t say, you never denied it.

  12. Ann O'Nemity*

    “Elsa emailed the group of experts from the original panel, including me, asking us to share our experiences of the panel as a case study for successful cross-industry collaboration.”

    I am so curious is anyone on the original panel actually had a good experience or if any successful cross-industry collaboration occurred! Because based on Elsa and Sven, I’m thinking maybe not.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I am also very curious, because all else aside this panel does not sound like a good example of cross industry collaboration.

    2. Spero*

      If Elsa is the one collating the responses, I doubt negative ones will ever see the light of day.

      1. Ellie*

        Yes, I wondered if OP might be willing to join the survey and give some accurate feedback over her experiences. She’s probably better off just ignoring it though.

    3. SofiaDeo*

      I’d be tempted to “reply all” email back the truth as I remembered it, depending on how much I had to work with Elsa going forward. With an intro written something like, “Since I was removed early from the group due to (what they did), I’m afraid I don’t have much to contribute, since I was involved such a short time.”

      If I have to deal with Elsa a lot right now, I wouldn’t. But I don’t like to reward bad behavior. I won’t go around complaining about it, but hey, she DID ask.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*


      OP you seem to feel you have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt to refute her. You don’t. First, she just asked you to share your opinions on the board, which you can refuse to do politely. You have the perfect excuse, I wasn’t involved very long so nothing to contribute. There is no need to get into who did what when. But if Elsa continues with her lies, you can just say, Elsa that’s not the way I remember it and I don’t wish to discuss it. Folks who know you and know Org B, can figure it out if Elsa tries to push her version of events. No need to drag out email chains or get sworn affidavits.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        It doesn’t sound like OP can run, though. But at least OP can have their guard up and, as others have said, know that Elsa is not to be trusted.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I’m not sure this is necessary. It sounds like Elsa isn’t in any position to harm LW, so continuing a polite but distant relationship with Elsa is probably fine as long as LW keeps in mind that she cannot be trusted.

  13. Goldenrod*

    “The goal here isn’t to get both of you on the same page so you can have a relationship based on truth and genuine connection; it’s to conduct whatever business needs to be conducted and be done.”

    This is SO TRUE for so many work situations, not just this one.

    This was basically by MO when dealing with my last evil boss. Once I’d realized how terrible she was, I let go of any requirement to be authentic in any of our communications. I just behaved in whatever way would most effectively get me the result I wanted. It was very freeing.

    Contempt is something that you can enjoy internally at work, while on a practical level, doing whatever you need to to get from A-Z.

  14. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I think even if you and Elsa have conflicting versions of what happened six years ago, the point remains that you were only in that advisory group for two weeks! She might love your work, especially since she’s working with you now (and needs your funding!), but I’m genuinely not seeing what insights you might be able to provide this case study.

    It’s like using someone you managed for a mere two weeks asking you to be a reference: you can’t possibly speak to your work in a meaningful way, just like you can’t speak to working on this advisory group in any meaningful way.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      What I left out of the above is that regardless of what kind of relationship you want/need to have with Elsa going forward, I feel like you’ve got a pretty strong case for declining this particular ask.

      1. HonorBox*

        Very true. “I didn’t have enough time on the panel to give any sort of helpful insight to the survey you’re conducting.”

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      “It’s like someone you managed for a mere two weeks asking you to be a reference: you can’t possibly speak to their work in a meaningful way, just like you can’t speak to working on this advisory group in any meaningful way.”

      That’s how that paragraph should read. Having a great brain day over here.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      The “needs your funding!” is a good point! Of course Elsa is all nice now and only has pleasant memories–she needs/wants LW’s money!

  15. Rick Tq*

    I’d consider doing a Reply to Elsa and either a CC or BCC to the rest of the email list just stating
    “I cannot participate in this event, I don’t have any real experience with the Advisory Board or what it may have achieved.”

    Everyone who knows the history already knows what happened and when.

  16. NotARealManager*

    If you can ignore it, I would. Elsa may genuinely not remember the order of events that transpired from years ago.

    In my past industry, I was essentially a freelancer and worked for Company A on a project, I thought it went fine, but they didn’t call me back for the next project or any future projects. A couple years went by and someone else from Company A called me to work on a new project.

    When I walked on the first day of project #2, the guys I’d worked with on project #1 were also there and sort of laughing “with me” about all the silly stuff I’d done when I’d worked with them last time. Then it become immediately clear why I hadn’t been called back two years prior: they had me totally confused with someone else.

    So Elsa does sound like she sucks (as these guys kind of did because they had obliviously just filed me away as “young blonde woman”), but she might not be sucking on purpose.

  17. RagingADHD*

    It sounds like Org B is such a mess, Elsa may not even know what the real story is anymore, just what the cover story was supposed to be. I wonder if Elsa even realized LW was still on that version of the mailing list. When an organization is messy enough, it’s hard to even tell whether people are lying for some larger narrative, or just lying to cover a dumb clerical error.

    Not that it really matters at this point.

    1. OP*

      Quite likely – Elsa does seem somewhat indoctrinated into Org B’s particular brand of crazy.

  18. Sloanicota*

    This sounds so much like my current milieu I’m suspicious we work in the same non profit sector, but perhaps it’s not unique to mine. Do not let this clown parade recruit you into an oversized pair of shoes. Duck and weave, focus on the mission, and keep on keeping on.

  19. Festively Dressed Earl*

    I vote to ignore it; is Elsa’s revisionist version likely to affect your professional reputation or cause harm to organizations who work with Org B? It’d be one thing if Org B had a good reputation, but a case study from an organization that’s known for big summer blowouts is eyeroll worthy even without the past history. OTOH, say you do press Elsa and correct her version of events. You’re in a superior position to her because her organization depends on yours for some of their funding. Avoiding the appearance of “bullying” her in the present is worth letting this past incident slide.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      I have to appreciate the additional Frozen reference you managed in this comment. Nicely done.

  20. Slow Gin Lizz*

    Anyone else here curious on what happened to Sven? Is he still the CEO of that org, I wonder?

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I imagine he partnered with Fergus and they are now running a failing consulting “big ideas” business.

    2. OP*

      Oh he definitely is. He’s not at all liked, and people actively avoid him before and after industry-wide meetings. It’s like watching the poor left-out kid alone in the playground except it’s a grown man in his 60s with a white beard, and it’s entirely his fault.

      Every so often I’ll walk over to him and have a wee chat about anything other than work – his grandkids, his fishing trips, the tie he’s wearing. It makes him quite uncomfortable and he’s forced to be polite to me even though his eyes flash fire at me through the whole conversation.

  21. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    I typically don’t let lies just go unchallenged — but I also wouldn’t debate her interpretation either. “Since you are looking for a case study for SUCCESSFUL cross-industry collaboration, I won’t be able to help you with this request. My experience was not successful.”

  22. Crencestre*

    Did you keep any documentation that would prove that Org B (which frankly sounds like a not-so-hot mess!) kicked you out (rather than this being done at the request of Org A? If so, you might want to mention this to Elsa if she starts in again on how Org A engineered your withdrawal from the shared group; she might be less inclined to spread that untrue story if she knew you had proof of what really happened.

    1. OP*

      I’ve probably got some screenshots of the ‘your access removed’ screens, but to be honest Elsa is so far down the rabbit hole of crazy that she would probably claim I’ve doctored them.

  23. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Doesn’t look like you’d gain anything from confronting Elsa, or trying to correct her version of history.
    Just be professional and politely cordial to her, but always remember she is a lying liar who lies. And screams.

  24. Stoli*

    I’d let it go entirely. People have different recollections about what happened years ago. In the long run it doesn’t really matter.

  25. Good Enough For Government Work*

    Given the name choices here, I can’t overstate how delighted I am that Alison’s advice boils down to “Let it go”.

  26. Office Plant Queen*

    There is also the possibility that she’s neither lying nor misremembering her side of things, but that she was lied to. Who knows, maybe Sven claimed to have gotten an email from the board of Org A asking for you to be removed.

    But as Alison said, it doesn’t really matter because of the rest of what’s happened around her and that organization

    1. OP*

      Sven has certainly acted this way before… so this wouldn’t surprise me. And Elsa is turning into a mini Sven.

  27. Standard Human*

    There might be value in cancelling the meeting because
    1.) You’re upset with the lying, and are more likely to not do a lot of automatic soothing and problem resolution — if you have to do a lot of that work during normal conversations with Elsa then it’s probably better to postpone
    2.)Elsa is probably Not Fixable but a direct boundary where she doesn’t get to facilitate things because of a bald-faced lie is totally reasonable.

    1. Ellie*

      Yes, how good are you at ignoring this and behaving reasonably with Elsa at that meeting? I know I have no poker face… if it was me, I’d find a way to postpone or cancel the coffee. But maybe you’re better at this sort of thing than I am?

      Either way, Elsa is an idiot, but you already knew that. I’d just ignore the email and if you’re ever called on it, explain that with just the 2 weeks membership you really couldn’t think of anything useful you could contribute. She knows the reason, you already gave it.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Hahaha, do like that person did on one of the reader stories about quitting where on his last day one guy called into the company wide zoom mtg and talked about all the bad things the company had done and when the company disconnected him from the call he was still talking because he’d called in on two lines. Heck, call in on three or four lines!

      (I mean, don’t, but wouldn’t that be hilarious?)

  28. Ms. Murchison*

    LW, I think you might be feeling conflicted over the friendly nature of “meet for coffee,” since it runs contrary to the bad vibes Elsa keeps creating. While you’re evaluating what kind of relationship you need, perhaps consider moving these funding proposal etc. meetings to a more business-like setting, like a conference room or an office. And only meet in person if it really can’t be an email.

    Also, after reading that letter, I hope you can just find ways to pull back from working with Org B and Elsa as much as possible. Good luck.

    1. BellaStella*

      I was going to say something along these lines. I think pulling back as much as possible is a good idea. To me, pulling back means giving yourself more respect – not dealing with people who clearly lie and create drama, not giving them your valuable space, time, energy, expertise, etc – to me this is a means of protecting myself. OP you owe it to yourself to surround yourself with better people, even a one off coffee thing is too much when that same time could be used with a better industry colleague.

    2. Yeah...*

      As a person who is amused when people say (to me) my professional nature makes them uncomfortable, I agree a conference room or an office is the way to go. Faux friendly is not a form of interaction I like either.

      Also, people who say my professional nature makes them uncomfortable have all been shady. It used to bother me because I like being liked, so any criticism hurt my feelings. I am over that now. I value my integrity. If professional behavior is a problem for you, the problem is you.

  29. radish*

    Just seconding the advice to pull way back from Anna. It’s not clear from your letter, but I can’t really imagine the situation where it’s absolutely necessary that you attend meetings over coffee with this person. At the very least, can you not attend any meeting alone? Maybe you suddenly have an assistant who transcribes everything, since you’re so busy these days and need to have all your meetings recorded for your own organization?

  30. OP*

    Thanks everyone – Alison’s advice is spot on as always! I’ve decided not to reply to the email, and I’m considering my options for the coffee.

  31. Raisins in Potato Salad Walking to the Moon*

    Five bucks says that Sven told Elsa the sham story, and Elsa is dumb enough to believe it. Set the record straight, in brief, if you want, but it is so not worth spending significant thought on.

  32. Philanthropy*

    I work as a funder and find this type of insight super useful. You understand how she operates and her trustworthiness. It’s worth making sure that whoever at your organization who makes funding decisions has that knowledge too. They may want to keep an eye out for other things that aren’t truthful.

    I wouldn’t cancel the meeting though —keeping relationships going is super helpful in an ongoing philanthropic relationship. But I would let her know that you remember it differently.

    1. I'm the Phoebe in any Group*

      This is great advice. I also work in funding, though from the grant recipient side. There is a high likelihood that a person/agency as shady as Elsa/Org B is falsifying outputs and outcomes achieved and using grant funds for purposes other than the contracted line items.
      I believe that people are relatively consistent. Sleazy people are going to be sleazy. Their grant reports are probably works of fiction or greatly exaggerated.

  33. oaktree*

    I kinda wonder if Elsa legitimately believes that the change in relationship between Org A nd Org B constituted a request to cut the relationship. OP might know better than we if that’s plausible.

    Regardless, I might be inclined to at least reply to the email with a courteous dispute of the facts, so that OP is on record saying it didn’t happen. Otherwise, the only thing standing is Elsa’s email saying this was the reason.

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