On the fifth of six 13+ hour days of student orientation counselor (SOC) training, I looked around at the end of lunch to find a number of student leaders missing. After asking around, someone mentioned that the group missing was in a student organization meeting with their staff advisor. I was confused because school was not in session, so how was a student organization having a meeting? SOCs were also told that meals were not considered free time, so why were they missing?
I found the group of students having a pow-wow with the advisor of their student organization- a staff member who has worked on campus long enough to know that SOCs have a limited amount of time to complete an overwhelming amount of work to put together a successful Orientation program. My confusion became less about the students and more about my co-worker who had pulled the SOCs away from their roles without any notice.
Walking over to the SOCs, I told them, “Lunch is over and I need you back now”. I wanted to tell my co-worker that now was not the appropriate time for a student organization meeting and that I would have appreciated it if she had asked to meet with the students. But I needed to get the next training session started and questioned whether it was the appropriate time for that conversation. It would have been.
A few days later, on the final day of Orientation, I was with a few students and co-workers at the end of a session. The aforementioned staff advisor came up to me and said “I was hoping to talk to you. You seemed irritated the other day when I was meeting with the students and I wanted to make sure we didn’t have an issue”. I was surprised, annoyed, and embarrassed. Did she think it was the appropriate time for that conversation? It wasn’t.
So in front of those students and co-workers, what did I do? I apologized. And immediately regretted it. This individual has been working at my institution for years. I had just celebrated my one year anniversary. It is not completely surprising that I felt the need to apologize. I told her that I was sorry if she felt I was rude and that no, there was no issue. I still didn’t think it was an appropriate conversation to have at that time and place, in front of others and during an Orientation program that I was in charge of running. So I left it at that, but walked away upset.
I was upset with her for putting me in an uncomfortable position twice now, but I was also upset with myself because I let her put me in an inferior position. Just because she is a more established presence on campus, does not diminish who I am.
I originally felt uncomfortable talking to her, and felt that there were more pressing tasks at hand, but I should have confronted her immediately. It probably was rude of me to walk into that classroom and interrupt that meeting without explaining to her why I had a problem with it. The issue became about my actions instead of hers.
To this day, we still have not had the conversation we should have had from the beginning. We collaborate on projects and I cannot help but feel she has the upper hand, not because of her position on the hierarchy, but because I let her have it. I let her put me in a position I didn’t want to be in, and I apologized for it.
My takeaways from this scenario?
- Talk to your co-workers if you have an issue that should be addressed, especially if you need to work together in the future.
- Don’t apologize for something that you aren’t sorry for. We all, women especially, apologize unnecessarily and when we don’t mean to. Learn how to respond gracefully without saying “I’m sorry”.
Some friends that I talked with about this told me that it’s all part of the game of politics we have to play on small campuses. I’m not so sure. What are the best ways to have difficult conversations with co-workers who have more authority on campus? How do we establish ourselves and our roles with those on upper levels of the hierarchy?
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Podcast With Courtney O’Connell on Innovating Staff Training