I work in higher education (a public university), with administration (i.e., not faculty). What I do is mostly admissions and retention-related. My question does not relate to my specific position; I only mention it for context, if it helps.

There are many nuances regarding what I can and cannot do when interacting with people and groups outside our office. These boundaries are so vaguely-defined that I keep overstepping them without meaning to. While my boss has been understanding of my mistakes and has even gone so far as to defend me to others, I suspect she is tiring of this. Furthermore, this is beginning to dent my confidence, and I fear it may adversely affect my performance on the job.

I want to be proactive about this, but I don't know where to begin. Clarification on one major overstep, for example, was buried deep in a union agreement document that I would never have even thought to check for anything relevant to me had the mistake not happened to begin with. Would HR be a good place to start? Or should I speak with my boss directly? Or is there something else I may be missing?

Again, I am not looking for any help as relates to my specific institution or position -- only general guidance as relates to these missteps. Thank you for any help.

  • How do you work without reading the rules? – Deer Hunter Feb 15 '16 at 20:07
  • usually it's fairly simple, don't swear at the students, don't bash the students, don't touch the students inappropriately – Kilisi Feb 15 '16 at 21:33
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    Talk to your boss about the bigger picture, i.e. the pattern of mistakes that's developed because of the obtuse boundaries. Our userbase can't really say anything else here, especially since this is about academia. – Lilienthal Feb 16 '16 at 14:50
  • Thank you Joe and Lilienthal. I appreciate your responses. I am a little confused, though, as to why this is considered off-topic... I am not looking for help on my institution's specific regulations, nor any kind of legal advice. I am new to the professional world, and I was just wondering if there were broader rules or mores that I was unaware of. I did not mean to be off-topic. If there is any way I could change the wording of my question to make it more appropriate, I would be happy to do so. – Violet Feb 16 '16 at 22:34
  • I have edited my question to try to make it more broad (while I work in higher ed, that fact is only incidental to the question). I hope that helps. If anyone else thinks any further edits may help in making this question more on-topic, please let me know. – Violet Feb 17 '16 at 15:19

Would HR be a good place to start? Or should I speak with my boss directly?

Whenever you are unclear about any aspect of any job, talk with your boss. Explain what seems to be happening from your point of view and ask for suggestions about how to correct it. Then, act on those suggestions.

You seem to imply that your boss is getting impatient with you, and that somehow she expects you to already have absorbed all these "vaguely-defined" rules, nuances and boundaries. But seemingly you aren't there yet.

Talk with her about what she actually expects you to do, particularly when you aren't sure if you have absorbed all the details yet. Perhaps you need to be studying more, or asking more questions before acting, or something else. Hopefully, your boss will tell you and help you succeed.

  • Thank you, Joe, for your very helpful and thoughtful response. You seem to understand where I am coming from with my question. I guess I sort of knew that would be the best course of action, but you put it in a way that helps it make more sense. I wish I could upvote! – Violet Feb 16 '16 at 22:35
  • When I was young we didn't have email and every single piece of written correspondence had to go through a lot of management reviews before going out. I learned a lot of these nuances from seeing how they changed my writing. Its much harder today to grasp them I think. I would suggest you ask your boss to review your responses for a few weeks and pay attention to what he or she changes and ask why it needed to be changed. Then improve for the next time. Eventually the boss won't need to review anymore or only ones you think might be controversial. – HLGEM Feb 17 '16 at 18:23
  • In person interactions are a bit harder but at least try to learn form your mistakes and write down what not to do and don;t make the same mistake twice. – HLGEM Feb 17 '16 at 18:23
  • HLGEM, I never knew that written communications were ever subject to so much review! That's not a bad idea, I think, and it is something I have done to some extent, at least with certain correspondences. My boss is not one for micromanagement, but I may consider asking if she would like me to do that more often. – Violet Feb 17 '16 at 18:55

one major overstep, for example, was buried deep in a union agreement document that I would never have even thought to check

Study the rules. The first step would be to read the rest of this document. Then I would talk with your boss or anyone else who has knowledge in this area and keeps catching you over-stepping your boundaries and get them to suggest other documents or regulations for you to learn.

Learn from your mistakes. At some point, you should have enough of an idea about how your boss would behave in a certain situations. Are you over-stepping your boundaries to improve your evaluation metrics or is it just ignorance of the rules?

It's important to make sure your boss feels you're pushing the boundaries to do what is best for everyone and not just yourself. On the other hand, if you're making mistakes that don't benefit anyone, you just need to learn how to do your job.

  • JeffO, thank you also for your reply. I agree that being proactive and looking over these documents on my own initiative may prove helpful... – Violet Feb 16 '16 at 22:36

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