Getting Cold Treatment From Former Confidante

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about cool treatment: Acting professional every time I see him, I say hello or try to be friendly. However, this has become difficult as he ignores me in very obvious ways or he will give me a look of disgust if I say hello when he is in front of colleagues.

I’ve recently (last 6 months) started a new job. I’ve worked in office environments before but am slightly unsure on how to deal with this issue.When I started work I met this guy and we are both from the same city and both working abroad. He delved into personal problems and I ended up giving him advice. I later found out that he ranks quite high in the company. Acting professional every time I see him, I say hello or try to be friendly. However, this has become difficult as he ignores me in very obvious ways or he will give me a look of disgust if I say hello when he is in front of colleagues.

(Although usually he acts like I don’t exist.) I don’t expect conversation but saying hello to me seems polite, especially as he has no issues saying hello to everybody else. I went through a phase of ignoring him but when I’m alone he tries to initiate conversation again and ask quite personal questions. Once we are together with colleagues he will ignore me like I don’t even exist. Although, I have no issues with that, it becomes quite difficult when I need to explain something to him as he always seems to face away from me. Am I reading too much into this? Any advice would be appreciated.

Signed, Feeling Shut Off

DearĀ Feeling Shut Off:

There seems to be several things going on in this situation and you can positively change some things about all of them. First, as you have learned, one should be cautious about providing too much self-disclosure or allowing too much self-disclosure from others, when you don’t know people well. It’s too late to change your earlier personal conversations, but at least you can be warned for the future.

As an overall statement about your situation, I think it’s certain that you and Eric (as I will call him for the purpose of this response) are not viewing yourselves as part of a professional relationship but rather as having a personal relationship with problems. You will be the one most likely to have bad results at work and in your life from that approach, so you will need to change it, if Eric does not. Some part of Eric’s behavior is likely discomfort on his part about what he disclosed and what you know, or about the advice you gave and his thoughts concerning it. Another part of the situation is that he is high in the company where you work and you apparently are not. He may be concerned about giving you the impression he is open to closeness or friendship at work and he doesn’t want that–or at least doesn’t want it shown in public.You say when he is alone with you he asks personal questions. That is another indicator of a problem in the way he views you and the way you react about it, and that should be the first thing to stop. It’s not appropriate and it will inevitably lead to further problems. Avoid being alone with him unless it is necessary–REALLY necessary. Chose email or convey your information through your immediate manager if you have one. Keep the conversation brief and courteously friendly, but focused on work. If he asks a personal question that is clearly out of bounds, just grimace theatrically, hold up both hands as a stop sign and say, “No, I don’t want to talk about personal things at work–I’d better focus on this project!” Or something similar that brings the conversation back to work. If he pushes it, say more strongly, “No, Eric, I don’t want to talk about those things.”The minute you and he begin to have a personally charged, intimate or confidential conversation, you leave yourself open for problems, so don’t do that.

On the other hand, consider what you said about how you have handled the situation before now–trying to ignore him. That isn’t the way professionals handle conflict, it’s a scorned woman action. So, you have contributed to this as well. He has probably noticed what you’ve done and interpreted it as you having an emotional response to him. That may bother him and make him worry about you. Or, it may amuse him and give him reason to keep you dangling. Others may have noticed it too, and that is certainly a problem. If he is higher than you in the company and you are obligated to talk to him about business, you shouldn’t ignore him any time. Instead, treat him as you would any other person of his level in the company, with friendly courtesy but with restraint.As for his habit of facing away from you when you need to explain something to him, let that go and limit your explanations to those times when it is crucial that you talk to him. As I mentioned before, if he is higher in the company you likely have a manger between the levels.

Maybe you should be working more with that person anyway. Or, use email rather than face-to-face conversations. I don’t think you are reading too much into the situation, in that I think there is a problem and it could get worse if you’re not careful. But I do think you are inadvertently contributing to the problem by focusing more on the personal aspects of this instead of focusing on your own work within the larger organization. He is just one person and not the most important person in the company.Put your energies into doing your work well, developing a positive network among coworkers and finding out what your immediate manager needs from you. Stop obsessively thinking about someone who may or may not have your best interests in mind with his actions.Best wishes to you as you gain insights and knowledge in your new work place and as you work through this challenge.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.