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Saturday, May 1, 2010; 12:00 AM

DEAR AMY: I'm a supervisor in an educational setting. Recently during a meeting with a group of students and my peers, a student called me "deferential." The word deferential seems like a negative for me, as though she was telling me I was passive, too quiet or not as strong as other supervisors.

I also objected to her tone. It was as though she was talking down to me.

I didn't defend myself. I felt weak and insecure, and wished I would have stuck up for myself and asked her what she meant.

My reaction was to do nothing and I don't think this was the best response, though it's pretty normal for me. I was in shock.

Was she wrong to say this to me or was I wrong to be offended and then not to defend myself? What should I have said to put her in her place? I would like to learn how to stand up for myself in an assertive manner. Any tips? --Angry Academic

DEAR ANGRY: By not reacting in the moment, you basically proved this student right.

In a business meeting you can handle discomfort not by confronting but by changing direction. You say, "Let's turn our attention to the matter at hand." Generally, any personal characterization is out of line at a professional meeting, and the sooner this student learns this, the better.

There's nothing wrong with being quiet or low-key (if that is your nature), but if your students are basically walking over you, you should make some changes.

You could script out some statements to make and rehearse your part of the conversation.

I suggest you keep it simple and say, "I'd like to talk to you about a remark you made in front of other students and colleagues. Could you explain your thinking?" Give the student a chance to respond and listen to what she says.

Then you can say, "I want you to know I didn't appreciate that remark. It was inappropriate, out of line and embarrassing to both of us."

DEAR AMY: You have expressed sympathy in your column to men who have recently been forced out of the workplace by the current economy.


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