A reader asked:
“I just got a new job and my former boss called me a few days ago to ask for a favor. Problem is, he did something unfair to me. Last year I did a four-month internship at his company. It all went well. At least that’s what I thought since they seemed to love my work so much they even gave me a very nice gift at the end. He also personally asked me to come back this year for another internship, and the last time he called even proposed to me the idea of a full time job.
“But when I received my evaluation, filed by this same former boss, I realized he wasn’t as happy with my work as I had thought. The professor responsible for my internship even had to take additional steps so that it wouldn’t cause me problems with the school.
“Now this person doesn’t stop calling me and asking me for help, but I don’t know what to tell him. Should I tell him that I’m not happy with the way things went since I think he could have told me in person if he didn’t like the way I did the job? Or, should I help him anyway?
“I’m asking because you give such great advice on how to deal with people on your blog.”
First, thank you for your kind words about my blog.
Please know how sorry I am that you had the disappointing experience in terms of the report your internship professor received. I’m sure that was upsetting to you.
As to your question about helping him despite what he did, that decision is ultimately up to you. You have no obligation either way. Remember not to confuse being a “Go-Giver” with being a doormat.
However, before you make that decision, my suggestion (based only on what you wrote above) is to find out what actually happened that caused the negative evaluation.
The best course of action is to tactfully ask him what the issue was that caused him to write the less-than-complimentary report.
This needs to be done in a way that does not cause defensiveness on his part but allows him to logically understand your question and empathize.
For example: you might write (or say)…
“While I appreciate you asking for my help, based on the evaluation you gave me last year that seemed to indicate that my work was very poor, I’m a bit confused as to why you would feel confident enough in my abilities to ask me to help you? As you’ll recall, while verbally you indicated to me that you were pleased with my work, and were kind enough to provide me with a gift when I left, the evaluation you gave my professor responsible for my internship communicated in no uncertain terms that you were not at all happy with my work. Please feel free to let me know if there is something I should be aware of that perhaps I did not consider.”
Something like the above should cause him to get the picture very clearly that he needs to justify to you both why he wrote the letter he did as well as why you should feel motivated to help him. Of course, I only know the situation based on your description; thus I don’t know all the facts. So please take what I wrote with that in mind.
I hope this helps.