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Dealing with the cold shoulder

I am a thirty something woman who moved to a small, blue-collar, rural “city” because I accepted a position as a professor at the local university. I keep a low profile and most don’t know about my numerous and frequent accomplishments.

Almost daily, I receive inappropriate and derogatory comments from community members, coworkers, students, and even members of my extended family and their friends. In this region, women are not treated as equals and being college educated and/or having a white-collar job is seen as a negative. Given that I am a highly educated female whose expertise is in a male dominated field and I am not from this region…well, it’s open season and has been for the last 8 months.

I’ve managed to get most of the inappropriate comments from co-workers to stop. I don’t tolerate any inappropriate comments or actions from the students. But, I’m still struggling with how to handle comments from my extended family and their friends/relatives. Saying “that comment is not appropriate,” only brings on more comments. How can I stand up for myself without being rude? I don’t want to embarrass my extended family. Any ideas?

Anonymous

You moved to a new community that holds significantly different values from your own. Instead of finding the welcome wagon, you were met with the cold shoulder. The two support groups that most newcomers count on – work colleagues and extended family – not only failed to accept you, but their inappropriate comments sound like some type of sophomoric hazing ritual. Eight months is a long time to be an outsider.

It sounds as if you’ve made progress at work. Standing up for yourself— setting boundaries and not tolerating inappropriate comments from students and fellow professors—has proved successful. And you have a university ethos to back you up, as it is expected that students and professors treat each other civilly.

The strategy that was successful at work hasn’t helped ease tensions or build connections with community members or extended family. It’s not rude to stand up for yourself but sometimes, as you’ve seen, it can backfire. A constant stream of negative interactions with others is stressful and unhealthy so limit your exposure to these folks—whether you’re related to them or not—until you’re feeling more settled and welcome.

Consider that some people may be nervous to speak with you. They may have concerns about being misjudged by you, and that may be the root of their inappropriate comments. As you interact, look for common interests and safe conversational topics. While changing people’s attitude toward you can be very difficult, it can happen as people get comfortable with who you are. Work at building your own circle of friends, colleagues, and family. Small though it may be at first, it can be a support network for you. Good luck!

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