how can I pull back on a friendship with a coworker, and more — Ask a Manager

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day — there’s more to come today.

1. How can I pull back on a friendship with a coworker? (#2 at the link)

It certainly has been a learning experience and implementing some of your suggestions has worked in a lot of ways. I greatly appreciate your help. I think I needed permission to not be as nice as I was and it was helpful that other folks had similar experiences in the comments.

Shortly after receiving your initial advice, this person and I disagreed on a work policy and they blew up at me. They also were having similar interactions with other coworkers on different floors and in different departments. I decided then and there to put your steps into action and also take it a bit further to protect myself and my sanity! I realized I needed to follow my gut and give myself the green light to limit friendships in the office, starting with this one.

What’s worked:

I stopped answering calls and texts from them on my personal devices. If they talk to me about work, it has to be via traditional company channels so I can keep a paper trail. I muted their messages in my cell phone so I am not alerted to their attempts to contact me outside of work hours. If they ask, I just say that I didn’t get it or I was busy and saw it too late. I am busy outside of work so it passes muster.

I have ended my open door policy completely. I used to keep my door to my office open all the time. I do not anymore. If I know that the person in question is on site, I will close my door, lock it and mark that I am in a meeting or busy. It sucks because it restricts my own movement in our building but, it helps discourage them from coming to my space. I have asked if anyone needs me, to message me and ask if I have the time. This gives me the option to say no.

I also stopped speaking to them about any issues or information I have about work or people at work. This means no gossip or information is shared unless about a specific joint project. If they try to come vent to me I say, “I have only a few minutes before my next meeting” to cut the interaction short. If they ask my opinion, I don’t have one. I also do not ask follow-up questions.

As a result, we do not hang out in or out of the office anymore. We do not spend much time speaking other than to go over project details or if they have a question. It is still hard. There is a definitive shift in the energy when we interact. We are still polite, but they are hot and cold with me. Because of the incident mentioned earlier, I am sometimes on edge but the restricted engagement has helped me manage.

2. A disgruntled fired employee says he’s coming to a work event I’m planning (#3 at the link)

I spoke to our human resources person, and she told me that she and the director had already reached out to the local police about coming to the event, and Sam was notified that he is barred from attending it.

They’re still waiting to hear back from the police, so I will be checking in regularly until I hear that they’ve actually agreed to come, and if they don’t, I’ll look into hiring private security or canceling the event.

On the urging of the commenters, I also contacted local law enforcement about Sam, because a) I don’t know exactly what upper management told them and b) I realized that my concerns about Sam won’t end even if this event goes smoothly.

3. My husband and I share a home office — how do we make this work?

Thanks for running this Ask the Readers question last year! I had a busy day when it ran and didn’t participate in the comments at all. It sure was interesting to look back and see all the assumptions people were making! As I expected, the most useful feedback we received was from people who actually do share successfully home offices. Thank you to all those who shared their experience!

What we took away was the most important thing is to be sure we’re not on calls at the same time to avoid audio interference. So we set up an alternative call space in our bedroom (aka I cleaned off my vanity), and then every morning we compare schedules and decide who’s going to take calls where. We set up the shared office the month before I went on maternity leave, and we’ve been loving it ever since! We both always use headsets and virtual/blurred backgrounds for calls so this works perfectly for us. We also have a clearly defined workspace space away from the baby (who is taken care of by someone else in the house during the day), which was important to us.

So with some good communication we have a super easy solution … no need for my husband to do an hour long commute everyday, share our bedroom with a baby for a year (he moved into his own bedroom at four months and everyone slept 100% better), or my favorite ridiculous suggestion: build a freestanding wired office shed in our tiny backyard. Maybe if we have another kid!

4. Can my younger coworkers read cursive? (#4 at the link)

The commenters helped me realize I could ask my 20-something direct report, who was the one I was most worried about, especially since the power differential would have made it harder for her to speak up. She delightedly said that she loves cursive, but that her same-aged family members who grew up in this area generally can’t read it. Like I said in the comments, it doesn’t come up a lot, but it seems reasonable for me to take a second to think about whether cursive is likely to be comprehensible before using it in work-related things.

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