Getting The Silent Treatment

Question:

I work right next to what I thought was my friend. Lately, everytime she does not like what I say, she does not talk at all, all day long. We are the only workers in the office in the hospital. It’s horrible! I can’t confront her because she will lay a guilt trip on me. Like, you are over-reacting or I just don’t feel like talking. But, she will talk to another friend real nice and ignore me. What can I do about this or at least get her at her own game?

Signed,

Being Shut Out


Answer:

Dear Being Shut Out:

Let me share some thoughts about this situation, so you can develop a plan of action for restoring your friendship and improving your work relationship. 1. You do not mention what it is you say that your co-worker doesn’t like, and that seems to cause her to refuse to talk. You may find your easiest course of action is to avoid the topics that seem to upset her, if they are not related to work. Or, if they are related to work, consider the manner in which you communicate.

That doesn’t mean you must be mute all day, or excessively worried about every word or nuance. But, if you know that something creates conflict; either the topic or your manner in discussing it with her; perhaps you could make the changes necessary, for the sake of the relationship and a comfortable work environment.

2. You say you don’t want to confront her. You are probably correct that you would not be successful if you brought up all the prior experiences, lumped them together and demanded an explanation. But, what about questioning her the next time it happens, without bringing up past occasions?

For example, if she seems angry, or if she doesn’t talk, consider saying, “Beverly, are you having a problem with something? You seem quieter than usual all of a sudden.” She will likely say there is no problem. Then, you could be more specific. “Since we talked about such and such you’ve seemed upset. If I did or said something that bothered you, I’d rather know than wonder.”

If she denies again, push the point a bit. “If it wasn’t that, what caused the change from before that conversation until now? You’ve turned away from me and not responded to my questions two or three times. That’s not like you and it’s not the way we usually get along. Is there something other than work that’s bothering you?”

Maybe pushing it a bit will encourage her to either talk about it at the time, or will have an impact on her behavior in the future.

3. Has this made a barrier between the two of you that is getting higher and wider every day? If you value a good working environment, don’t let that happen! Rather than paying her back with similar behavior, think of ways to renew the friendship you once had. Yes, you may be making more of an effort than she is at that point; but it may help put things back to normal.

These aren’t specific suggestions, but are examples: Ask her to go with you to lunch at a different place than the norm. If you bake, bring something for the two of you to share. Find a magazine article or internet article she might enjoy and copy it for her. Make a point of sending her an email about things she is interested in. Ask her advice. Involve her in something interesting. Say positive things about her to others. Invite one of her other friends to go with you and her to lunch or to the break area. Work to appreciate the things that made you two friends to begin with.

Whatever you decide to do to renew the friendship, view it as a way to strengthen the working link between the two of you. People link with those who have something to offer them. In the case of you and this co-worker, it may be that you can offer her support, encouragement, fun, and assistance with work. 4. Before you assume it is all about communication conflict, consider everything else that could be happening. Maybe there is TOO much togetherness between the two of you. Maybe she feels there is too much conversation and not enough work. Maybe she has personal problems. Maybe she is just difficult to deal with and you’ve never noticed it before now.

Whatever the cause, you might as well accept that it will not change and will likely get worse, unless you do something specific to find out the root cause. You may find you have no control over the source of her irritation. Or, you may be able to correct the problem quickly. You won’t know what role you have in all of this unless you talk to her.

I do know this: In a small office it is vital that everything be as pleasant as possible. This requires that everyone (in this case, both of you) feel good about the other one. Without that, a work day can be very, very long. With it, work can be fun. So, whatever you find it necessary to do, if it works, it will have been worth it.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. Your situation is one that could be useful for others.

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.