Author Topic: Rude to ignore a direct question in email? (Small update - post #7, #14, #16)  (Read 5072 times)

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unnalee

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Ok, this is long and complex.  I'll do my best to simplify.

I just got a new job in a small archive focused on a regional ethnic group (I love my job!).  The archive is affiliated with a small private university which was founded by this same ethnic group in the late 1800s.  I belong to this ethnic group.

The university used to also be a seminary affiliated with a specific branch of a protestant religion (Let's call them the Blue church).  The seminary closed decades ago, and any religious overtones on campus are much more general now.  Not everyone in my ethnic group belonged to the same branch, and in fact, there was much division between certain factions of the Blue Church, to the point where many branches split off and formed their own congregations.  These branches still exist in our community today, so it's not uncommon to know other people who belong to the Azure Church, the Turquoise Church, or the Periwinkle Church, all sharing the same ethnic heritage.

Our archive focuses on collecting records and artifacts from this ethnic group, REGARDLESS of political or religious affiliation.  We want to include and preserve all voices and experiences.  I was raised in the Azure Church, but don't have strong ties to it anymore.

It's shocking how often patrons will ask me what my religious affiliations are!  I'm uncomfortable talking about that in a professional setting, because the wrong word or impression to the wrong person could cause offense and we could lose donors.  There used to be rumors passed among some groups that whenever the archive was given a donation that was related to X or Y sub group of the ethnic group, the archive staff burned it because "those people" were "bad."  It's completely NOT TRUE, but gives you an idea of some of the issues I need to be aware of to do my job well.  I am ususally able to deflect and bean dip.  But there is one guy who won't be distracted.

He used to work for the university years ago as a fundraiser.  He also attended school here and seminary, and fancies himself to have been something of a basketball star (I only know all this because he donated a copy of his self-published autobiography to our archive).  He's a pretty in-your-face person.  He was a pastor in a Blue church before moving on to join an Azure Church (under some controversy of the extramarital kind).  It seems he thinks that everyone who works for the university should be overtly religious, but as it doesn't affect my job, I don't think it's anyone's business.

All my dealings with him thus far have been through email.  Every single one has asked in different roundabout ways what my religious status is.  The email I just got from him this morning has done away with the subtleties and says,

"Have a nice Advent and Christmas.  Considering your roots, are you Azure?   Good to have Azure people on our staff, and students too."   :o

It's not rude if I ignore a question that is itself pretty rude, even if it's asked directly of me, right?  Anyone think I need to respond, and if so, what would you suggest?
« Last Edit: December 14, 2012, 10:16:40 AM by unnalee »

bopper

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email?
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2012, 04:01:32 PM »
I would ignore the questions about your religion and just answer any pertinent work questions. I would ignore this email.

Biker Granny

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email?
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2012, 04:03:02 PM »
I'd reply....Thank you for the warm wishes....Merry Christmas to you too!.


Nothing more.

Decimus

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email?
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2012, 04:33:28 PM »
Hm.  I think given the precise wording, you can safely pretend it was a rhetorical question.  The sentence can be read as "If you are Azure, then I think it is good" and not "please tell me your religious affiliation."  That may well not be what he means, but you can probably get away with pretending it's rhetorical and just replying with "Merry Christmas to you too."

However, due to the implications it may be worth sending a question up a  rank.  Are you the sole archivist?  Who does the archives report to in the university org chart?  If, say, the archives is part of the university library, you could send the Head Librarian an email and ask "What is the university policy applicable when important donors specifically inquire about the religious affiliations of university staff?"

After all, his next email might well be "Are you Azure?" with no other cover.  Or he might complain that (say) the Janitor is Turquoise/Red/Kumquat.  It's an etiquette question you might want to push up a level if possible.

Winterlight

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email?
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2012, 04:37:59 PM »
Hm.  I think given the precise wording, you can safely pretend it was a rhetorical question.  The sentence can be read as "If you are Azure, then I think it is good" and not "please tell me your religious affiliation."  That may well not be what he means, but you can probably get away with pretending it's rhetorical and just replying with "Merry Christmas to you too."

However, due to the implications it may be worth sending a question up a  rank.  Are you the sole archivist?  Who does the archives report to in the university org chart?  If, say, the archives is part of the university library, you could send the Head Librarian an email and ask "What is the university policy applicable when important donors specifically inquire about the religious affiliations of university staff?"

After all, his next email might well be "Are you Azure?" with no other cover.  Or he might complain that (say) the Janitor is Turquoise/Red/Kumquat.  It's an etiquette question you might want to push up a level if possible.

This. I'd want to see if there's some way to nip this in the bud, and supervisors should be aware that he's pestering staff.
If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.
Caroline Lake Ingalls

onyonryngs

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email?
« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2012, 04:39:17 PM »
I'd reply....Thank you for the warm wishes....Merry Christmas to you too!.


Nothing more.

This.  And if he presses further, tell him you're sorry, but you don't discuss your personal life with patrons.

nuit93

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email?
« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2012, 06:33:58 PM »
I'd reply....Thank you for the warm wishes....Merry Christmas to you too!.


Nothing more.

I like this.  It's to the point and he probably forgot that he mentioned it.

unnalee

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email? (Small update - post #7)
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2012, 09:34:11 AM »
After posting here, I mentioned it to our director.  He heaved a big sigh, rolled his eyes and said he was surprised it took this long for the guy to ask me my religious ties.  Apparently, it's pretty much his MO anytime a new staff person is hired at the university, and is in no way meant to be rhetorical.  He tries to find a new connection to campus, since he's pretty much alienated everyone who's been around for a while.  He especially targets woman (so I've now been told), and feels that belonging to the same church denomination makes it easier to make and keep a connection with people. 

I didn't mention it before because it didn't seem relevant, but now that I know what this guy's agenda is, in the Azure church, it is expected that younger people (I'm in my 30s, but he's in his 60s) will show respect to church elders and that women will be deferential to male church members at all times, no matter if meeting in church or out in public (did I mention that I've moved away from the church of my youth?  There were abundant reasons...) This guy fancies himself to be quite the ladies' man. 

After finding all of this out from my director, some off-handed comments from my previous email dealings with this guy make more sense.  This guy is slimey.

My director also said it would be best to set boundaries with Mr. Slimey now, before I have to deal with him face-to-face.  What do you all think of my reply? Most of it deals with other things, but the end addressed the inappropriate question.


Dear Mr. Slimey,
Thank you  for sending the list of potential items to be donated to the archive.  I will look them over this week and let you know by Monday which will fit into our collections.  I will also need the name and address of the donor's family for our records.

As to my church affiliation, I prefer not to discuss my personal life with patrons or donors.

Merry Christmas,
Unnalee


onyonryngs

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email? (Small update - post #7)
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2012, 09:58:27 AM »
I think it's a great response!

MrTango

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email? (Small update - post #7)
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2012, 10:28:24 AM »
I suggest a slight change:

Dear Mr. Slimey,
Thank you  for sending the list of potential items to be donated to the archive.  I will look them over this week and let you know by Monday which will fit into our collections.  I will also need the name and address of the donor's family for our records.

As to my church affiliation, I prefer not to do not discuss my personal life with patrons or donors.

Merry Christmas,
Unnalee

Saying that you "prefer not to" leaves the opening of trying to get past your preferences.  The stronger "I do not" is in no way rude.

PastryGoddess

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email? (Small update - post #7)
« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2012, 10:30:28 AM »
After posting here, I mentioned it to our director.  He heaved a big sigh, rolled his eyes and said he was surprised it took this long for the guy to ask me my religious ties.  Apparently, it's pretty much his MO anytime a new staff person is hired at the university, and is in no way meant to be rhetorical.  He tries to find a new connection to campus, since he's pretty much alienated everyone who's been around for a while.  He especially targets woman (so I've now been told), and feels that belonging to the same church denomination makes it easier to make and keep a connection with people. 

I didn't mention it before because it didn't seem relevant, but now that I know what this guy's agenda is, in the Azure church, it is expected that younger people (I'm in my 30s, but he's in his 60s) will show respect to church elders and that women will be deferential to male church members at all times, no matter if meeting in church or out in public (did I mention that I've moved away from the church of my youth?  There were abundant reasons...) This guy fancies himself to be quite the ladies' man. 

After finding all of this out from my director, some off-handed comments from my previous email dealings with this guy make more sense.  This guy is slimey.

My director also said it would be best to set boundaries with Mr. Slimey now, before I have to deal with him face-to-face.  What do you all think of my reply? Most of it deals with other things, but the end addressed the inappropriate question.


Dear Mr. Slimey,
Thank you  for sending the list of potential items to be donated to the archive.  I will look them over this week and let you know by Monday which will fit into our collections.  I will also need the name and address of the donor's family for our records.

As to my church affiliation, I prefer not to discuss my personal life with patrons or donors.

Merry Christmas,
Unnalee



Dear Mr. Slimey,
Thank you  for sending the list of potential items to be donated to the archive.  I will look them over this week and let you know by Monday which will fit into our collections.  I will also need the name and address of the donor's family for our records.

As to my church affiliation, I prefer do not to discuss my personal life with patrons or donors.


edited to add: Mr. Tango posted as I was posting as well :)

Firecat

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email? (Small update - post #7)
« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2012, 01:50:55 PM »
I suggest a slight change:

Dear Mr. Slimey,
Thank you  for sending the list of potential items to be donated to the archive.  I will look them over this week and let you know by Monday which will fit into our collections.  I will also need the name and address of the donor's family for our records.

As to my church affiliation, I prefer not to do not discuss my personal life with patrons or donors.

Merry Christmas,
Unnalee

Saying that you "prefer not to" leaves the opening of trying to get past your preferences.  The stronger "I do not" is in no way rude.

POD. And I'm glad that the director has your back.

GreenBird

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email? (Small update - post #7)
« Reply #12 on: December 13, 2012, 04:39:28 PM »
I'm also glad your director is backing you on this, but honestly I'd be wanting to ask the director if there is anything you should know about any of the other patrons.  This guy has an established pattern and 'especially targets women', and it didn't occur to the director to warn you ahead of time?   That hardly seems fair.  You handled the situation extremely well, but you could have avoided some stress and nipped it in the bud sooner if you'd just been informed.    You could use this as an opportunity to ask the director for a run-down of any other patron "quirks", particularly since it sounds like donors can be very sensitive and you don't want to lose any of them. 

DavidH

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email? (Small update - post #7)
« Reply #13 on: December 13, 2012, 08:23:48 PM »
Since it's a donor, I'd go with the ignore the question this time and wait for a time when there is not way out to state that you don't discuss your religious affiliation with patrons.  It just seems rather blunt, particularly in a thank you letter to say that. 

unnalee

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Re: Rude to ignore a direct question in email? (Small update - post #7)
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2012, 09:41:59 AM »
OP here again...

To address some points brought up by others since I posted last:  Mr. Slimey isn't actually a donor.  He lives near a family who recently lost their 92 year old father, who also was a former pastor in the Blue Church.  Because Mr. Slimey used to be affiliated with my university, he is helping the daughter donate her father's ministerial papers to our archive.

My director has warned me from the beginning of my tenure here about certain patrons who have caused problems in the past (like the guy who walked into the art gallery during an opening and started to lick the paitings).  I often work alone in the basement level of our building, so there IS a safety system in place should I feel or be threatened.  I have phones in different work areas, places where I can easily lock myself in and call for help, we even have a code word among staff that alerts coworkers that something is wrong and we need help but can't say so.  I'm not downplaying the idea that something could happen, but this truly is a SMALL town with very low crime.  I don't feel threatened in that way by Mr. Slimey, I just don't want to ruffle feathers if I don't have to, and I don't want to discuss my personal life with people I've never met.

I sent my response (with some guidance from my director).  I took some of the great advice here and firmed up some of the language.  I think it was to the point without seeming too blunt.  At least that's what I was going for.  Here's what I ended up sending:


Mr. Slimey,
Thank you for taking the time to send those items to the archive.  We are happy to have them as another piece in telling the story of ""insert our ethnic group here" in America.  Please give our thanks to Helen, as well as our sympathy on the loss of her father.

A list of the books would be most helpful.  If they don't fit into the scope of our collections, I'm happy I can at least save you the time and expense of sending them.

As for the question of my religious affiliation, I don't discuss my private life with donors or patrons.  Thank you for respecting that.

Thank you again for facilitating this gracious donation.  I look forward to its arrival.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Unnalee