I have been working with this friend/coworker for 18 years. We have shared a lot over the years, but now she wants to be only coworkers and not friends. She just stopped talking to me without any explanation. How do we continue working together as coworkers and not friends?
Sad and Confused
Dear Sad and Confused:
There is obviously something else going on either in your friend’s life, in her work or in problems related to the relationship the two of you had, if she is not talking to you at all. That’s not co-working, that’s only co-existing. Work can’t be done effectively that way.However, this situation is, in some ways, similar to childhood arguments where one goes storming home, swearing to never speak to the other again. Or, when dating couples break up but soon are calling or emailing. Even in divorces, former spouses are often able to be friends again. A friendship that has been a habit for 18 years is not likely to stop in a few days. So, unless there is something very serious that needs to be cleared up between the two of you or something very serious going on in the life of your friend, I’d say just give it some time, communicate with your friend about business when it is appropriate, keep the lines of communication open and in a few days or a couple of weeks there will be some outreach by your friend and maybe you can use that to re-open communications.There are a couple of things to keep in mind as you work to improve this situation: *Don’t make a big deal about trying to communicate or showing that you are still being friendly, although she isn’t. That not only draws attention to the conflict but it further alienates the other person. *Don’t expect or ask that the two of you go right back to the friendship as it was. It could be there was something about it that was a negative element in your friend’s life and she doesn’t want to return to that again.I’m not saying this is the case in your situation, but we often tell people who write to us complaining about a gossiping, griping or malingering coworker or a coworker that wants to be closer than they feel comfortable, that they need to either say something to get the situation to change or they need to stop the friendship for their own well-being.Again, I’m not saying that is your situation. However, it could be there was something about the way you two worked together, the things you talked about, or something that happened or had been building up, that made her feel she had to stop the friendship.When that happens it usually isn’t the friendship the person wants to stop, it’s the things that were going on around the friendship. *When she begins communicating again, don’t over-talk the situation to find out the problem. However, I do think it would be wise to say something like “Lisa, I’m really happy that we can talk again but I want to find out if there is something I need to do or not do for us to be comfortable working together again.”If you have known her well, you would know if she is moody or given to these kind of situations. If she is, you might not want to have to go through the break-up, make-up thing over and over.Be prepared for her to tell you that you should know the problem. I know of a situation where a woman had expressed frustration over a chronic problem behavior of her friend at work. The friend just laughed and kept doing it. The result was the woman cut her friend out of her life except when it was absolutely necessary. When the friend/coworker asked the supervisor about it, he told her she had pushed that button one time too many and been warned about it, so he couldn’t help her regain her lost friendship. That was years ago and they never went back to a friendship relationship, even though they generally work OK together.I’m not saying THAT is your situation either, it’s just a reminder that often people are perplexed about something that should have been obvious or that the other person thought was obvious. *Don’t let your work suffer while this is going on. Managers want the focus to be on work not internal conflict. So, even though things are tense, work has to go on. If you find your friend’s behavior is keeping one or both of you from getting work done, you may need to talk to your supervisor about it. Hopefully it won’t come to that.I think if you behave appropriately yourself and just wait with the door open, your friend will come back. Things may need to change or she may not be as close as before, but at least you will be talking and that will give the two of you a way to improve things. Best wishes as you deal with this situation. If you have the time and wish to do, let us know what happens.
Tina Lewis Rowe