How to Deal with Silent Coworker

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker grown cold:

Well to start this coworker and I always got along fine. We laughed shared stories etc. Then one day she started acting different and being argumentative. I was having a difficult time anyway. My Dad lost his sight for starters. She even got me to the point where I actually cried at work. Not proud of that. She told my boss I was a big baby.  Anyway we made up.

Then in February my Dad passed away. My Mom had passed away 2 years ago. My coworker didn’t make me feel bad about that. She was fine for a while.

Then about end of March she started giving me the silent treatment and being just plain mean. I might add she is fine and laughs it up with everyone else. I even asked her what was wrong all I get is, “Nothing; I am fine” Now she just doesn’t speak to me. She unfriended me on Facebook, but I am not about to ask her about that. I just want to get along at work and do my job. It does hurt when I am right there and she laughs and talks to others. At this point I just don’t try to talk to her. I used to say “good morning”. I am truly at a loss and it troubles me. Thank you so much for listening.

Signed, At A Loss

Dear At A Loss:

Your coworker and you don’t talk. Apparently, the silent treatment doesn’t affect the work each of you do. Yet it hurts to be unfriended. Can you bridge that gap that has deteriorated from friendship to cool and cold? You’ve tried months ago and it was better between you for a time but has not lasted and you are troubled by this loss. Usually I advise someone like you to look in the mirror and to reflect on what you might have done or not done that resulted in this spiraling down relationship; however, I don’t think that will help to introspect about what went wrong. You’ve done enough of that. It’s a sad but tolerable state of where you two are, like boats that pass on the same river but don’t even sound your horn or wave a hello. What remains is for you to resolve in your own mind how you will do what you are hired to do while still feeling troubled by this loss.

Therefore here are several suggestions for you to consider:Sometimes we have to steel ourselves to the realization that “that’s the way it is” and live with it, or in your case that means work with the way it is. Resolve to focus on being the most professional and productive worker you can. That means not obsessing about the meanness you sense and repeating this story of a lost worker’s friendship over and over again in your head. Apparently your assignments allow you to think about other things than that. Replacing it with constructive thoughts, such as doing assignments in ways that please your internal and external customers and think of ways to cut wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy and wasted money.

Also each time the thoughts of that lost friendship come to mind, push them aside by thoughts that enrich you. For example, hum a song that you like, repeat a poem or scripture that is meaningful, go over a recipe of a dish for dinner, retell yourself a story of good times with that mother or father that died, etc. Be civil and cheerful. That entails a friendly greeting to everyone, and that includes your “she doesn’t talk to me” coworker, such as, “Good morning, Sally. I hope things go well for you today.” Or “Wow. We’re finally getting some rain. Don’t let it dampen your day.” Don’t expect a reply; simply turn to your work. Be generous with please and thank you. Get a life outside of work; one that is excited about something. Perhaps that is starting a daily walk, singing in a choir, joining a book club, tutoring a young person at the library, working with a community theatre, volunteering once a week at the hospital or working in a food kitchen. Get outside of yourself. Work for a cause such a Mother’s Against Drunk Driving.Review your career. Do you see your job as simply just a job or would you like to be on a career path? Is there more training you need? Do you belong to a professional association in the field of your current work or a field you in which you’d like to work? There are many opportunities out there that don’t cost much. Determine to have a job and life with purpose.

Re-frame the way you see your job and your workplace. See as a team rather than collection of employees that work in isolation. See your boss as coach. What kind of communication would make your team a winning team; one that passed the ball and helped each other reach goals and make each others’ job easier and more effective? What if you would occasionally chat with a coworker or two about what it would be like if you were a real team? You’d best think that way because either a company increases its value to customers and that takes teamwork, or a company is at risk of being shut down. Working solo cannot enjoy the benefits of working together for something that matters. Do any of these suggestions make sense to you? Before you turn your mind inward and feel you are a victim of a heartless coworker, reread them. Choose one or more that applies to you. Yesterday I cracked open a fortune cookie and read, “Life is a verb”. It should have read that Living is an action not a passive verb. So I leave you with my signature advice packed in a sentence: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden