Distancing myself from a friendly colleague
January 23, 2010 3:56 AM   Subscribe

I've got a colleague who I've gotten to know over the last year. He's made a big attempt to be friends. We've hung out together socially a fair bit. I've realised that we have an insurmountable personality clash. I don't enjoy spending time with him. He's not a bad person. I just don't enjoy hanging out with him. He's very good at his job. He's clearly being lined up to become my manager when my current manager leaves. I want to keep excellent professional relations. So how do I back off the friendship part and still keep good work relations? He keeps suggesting things for us to do in the future socially. I'm half considering skipping a work colleagues party next weekend because I can't face spending time with him. It would be fine if I was only going to see him at the party but I'd have to catch a ride with him there and back or make a very obvious excuse to avoid catching that ride.
posted by aTrumpetandaDream to Work & Money (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
"[Colleague], given that you will soon be manager, it is important that we maintain a professional, and not social relationship. Therefore, I can't [insert social activity here] with you."
posted by dfriedman at 4:04 AM on January 23, 2010


Go to your colleague's party without the ride with the co-worker if possible, then talk with him briefly in between mingling with other guests. Don't indicate a 'special' bond/rapport with him above your other colleagues. Hopefully he sees you being as professionally and personally attached to others as you are to him. This may dial down his ability/desire to single you out for 'special friends' treatment. Good luck.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:10 AM on January 23, 2010


"[Colleague], given that you will soon be manager, it is important that we maintain a professional, and not social relationship. Therefore, I can't [insert social activity here] with you."

I think that would pretty much kill the professional relationship. That's just not acceptable in UK culture.

I don't want to offend him or cause any gossip "you'll never guess what he said to him..." He's an extremely well connected guy.

We hung out socially last Saturday evening and it was excruciating. Left me in a bad mood for days. He's been im'ing over the week suggesting future things for us to do though and I've been trying to make polite excuses.

Another problem is that there are four of us in the UK team, all working in a virtual office, and we meet up every month or so socially. Suppose I'm just going to have to grin and bare it.

Regarding the party I'm really going to have to make a BLATANT excuse not to share a ride. He'll be driving and I'd be catching the train. I really don't want to be stuck in a car for an hour each way being chummy though.
posted by aTrumpetandaDream at 4:44 AM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do not envy you having to try and create good boundaries in this situation. What if instead of making excuses (I know I would feel uncomfortable lying), you made legitimate plans with other people at first hint of an invitation, so that by the time you respond to him you could legitimately say "sorry, I have something else going on". Do this enough times, perhaps it would wear him down?
posted by dawnoftheread at 4:59 AM on January 23, 2010


Are there any specific things that he does or says that make him unpleasant to you? Considering that you want to continue working with him, and your followup shows that you'll have to be in a social setting with him alongside other people no matter what (unless you quit your job), maybe you can work on handling the things he does that make him "clash" with you. If that means specifically ignoring things that he says, believes, or does, you can work on that in a bunch of different ways.

Could you also maybe "partner" with an equally ranked colleague? If you establish yourself as being paired up with someone else, you may find it a lot easier to handle this guy, and he might leave you alone, knowing that you already have rides and social activities planned with someone else. Maybe he sees you as a loner who needs to be pushed into social activities? Your question is quite vague as to why he's so annoying to you, so I'm just unsure what we could say to help you specifically, other than "ignore things that don't affect you personally."
posted by Mizu at 5:00 AM on January 23, 2010


A class, a project or short term volunteer work might be in order. Something you could get heavily involved in for at least six weeks (that would take up all of your personal time), might allow you to gracefully keep your colleague at arms length. Just long enough to "lose" him. And without any damage to his feelings or your work relationship.

[This was an inadvertent but very useful side effect of my going back to school while working full time.]
posted by marimeko at 6:52 AM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


You write: "I can't face spending time with him." That wording is strong; I wonder what you're not telling us about your feelings about him-- and perhaps his imminent promotion.
Anyway, you shouldn't feel that you have to be his buddy to succeed professionally. Show him friendliness and respect at work, but the next time he wants to grab a drink (or whatever), have an excuse ready. Or diffuse the one-on-one intimacy by seeing if there are other colleagues who want to join in socially. Over time, you can gradually back off.
posted by cymru_j at 7:00 AM on January 23, 2010


Sorry if these suggestions seem flip; I am immature in these kinds of situations. I would probably try to find him an extremely needy and demanding romantic partner (did this with great success with a college roommate), or find a lonely male friend who is just like him and connect the two of them, or figure out what it was about myself that he liked so much and not act that way around him (become dull or mopey, etc.)
posted by Ashley801 at 7:09 AM on January 23, 2010


Are there any specific things that he does or says that make him unpleasant to you?

Well, it's hard out put down specific stuff without sounding like a 12 year old girl. I fully appreciate a lot of the reason I dislike him is due to my own personal weaknesses... but when I'm relaxing in my free time I want to spend it with people I like.

I think a lot of it comes down to male competitiveness.

I know part of being a professional is about maintaining good relationships with people you don't necessarily like in the workplace and happy to do that ... but in my own time it's different.

He's not a bad person I just dislike hanging out with him socially.
posted by aTrumpetandaDream at 8:37 AM on January 23, 2010


We hung out socially last Saturday evening and it was excruciating. Left me in a bad mood for days. He's been im'ing over the week suggesting future things for us to do though and I've been trying to make polite excuses. Another problem is that there are four of us in the UK team, all working in a virtual office, and we meet up every month or so socially. Suppose I'm just going to have to grin and bare it.


It would probably be really useful to work out why he seems to latch on to you and why he's pushing so many of your buttons. You will hate working for him a lot more than you hate interacting with him now if you don't work this out and overcome it your end.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:44 AM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, you can always find polite ways to avoid being alone with him (find another colleague to come along for the car ride) or turn down his invitations (a sly smile and hints of a new romantic interest in your life could do the trick).

But as others have noted above, this guy seems to bother you way more than is healthy. And if you feel this strongly about spending time with him, how will you deal with working under him?
posted by Paris Elk at 8:55 AM on January 23, 2010


It would probably be really useful to work out why he seems to latch on to you and why he's pushing so many of your buttons.

Well I think most of the other people he knows are married. Whereas we are pretty similar. Same age, single, same industry, both like sport and beer. It's a pretty natural fit.

As for specific reasons well here goes (but I dare you not to picture me whining like a prissy 10 year old while reading this):

- He has boasted about sleeping with the ex-girlfriends of one of his friends ... then when we bumped in to an ex of mine while we were in a bar he did his best to repeat the feat with her. Not cool and not someone I am especially want to hang out with.

- When we are out clubbing he has twice taken over when I've been getting on well with a random woman and pulled her. I know that sounds petty and all is fair in love and war but I would never do that to a friend. It's not nice when it happens and I don't want to bring along my own personal cock block to the club.

- He's brought up inappropriate work stuff during personal conversations such as his private access to the salary files so he knows how much I am paid and how much bonus people get. Not really what I want to hear about on a Saturday night.

- Generally everything is a one upmanship contest. If I've done something then the next story is him doing one better.

So, um, that's why I dislike hanging out with him socially. Fine as a colleague though.
posted by aTrumpetandaDream at 9:10 AM on January 23, 2010


I don't think you're a girl for not liking the cockblock thing. Yeh we have to accept all's fair no hard feelings if it's a random guy, but if a mate is responsible then they're not really respecting your social bonds unless you specifically enjoy that kind of competition.

Tricky though. It's good to learn how to deal with this sort of thing, but I can understand it's counterproductive to have to spend your free time with it.

I'd say go out with him just enough to be polite, for example when everyone from work is going, and don't when he calls to do something one on one. Or maybe just occasionally. He'll probablly adapt to it and just think well this guys not a staunch drinking pulling companion.

And also the other prong of the approach work on the feelings of why you can't stand it..I recommend body psychotherapy...so that you can deal with a certain amount. Once you get to a certain point you may find it good to hang out with these kind of people in small doses for your own development.
posted by Not Supplied at 9:37 AM on January 23, 2010


Yeah, you've given the guy enough chances. He sounds like a creep and those are some uncool moves you definitely don't need in your personal life. I think for me there would be a risk that I would call him a fuckwit during a social encounter, and that really might screw up the work relationship. You need to bail on the upcoming party, and fill your diary with other stuff for at least 6 weeks, even if it's made up. I can't believe I'm gonna say this, but maybe you could give up drinking/pubs for awhile - maybe for some plausible reason. I dunno, Lent? That's coming up soon right?
posted by honey-barbara at 9:39 AM on January 23, 2010


I'd agree with your not wanting to deal with him any more. On the other hand, you'll have to, if you're going to keep working with him. Instead of reading this question as "how do I drop a friend?" or "how do I gracefully avoid a social obligation without hurting anyone's feelings?" try reading it as "how do I keep a cordial working relationship with a coworker whose personal habits irritate me?". We've had a few of those questions around here, and the answers tend to be to call him on specific behaviors, rather than to try to fade out of the general social landscape.
at the next invitation: "Oh, the pub tonight? I may have to pass, you've been a terrible wingman." (discuss)
after the next time he meets some of your friends: "Hey, that's great you enjoyed talking to Anne, but if she hadn't avoided that pass you made at her, I may have had to shoot you both. Seriously, my ex-girlfriends are off-limits." (discuss)
The next time he boasts about his serious douchebaggery: "Really? You did that? Remind me not to admit to anybody decent that I know you. That is just not right."

Consider - you understand that your personal interaction style, your code of conduct, your expectations of your friends, all do not match up to his. He has no idea, because he is totally oblivious to these niceties. He doesn't hang out with other people in the office because he feels he has nothing in common with them. Once he realizes he has nothing in common with you, he'll stop hanging out with you, too.
posted by aimedwander at 10:21 AM on January 23, 2010


I think I can uderstand the OP's point about the difference between UK and US though. We don't express things like that so much, so it would be taken as much more of a big deal.
posted by Not Supplied at 10:46 AM on January 23, 2010


If you can't talk to him about his douchebaggery when hanging out, you're going to have to manage the hanging out so that you're not putting yourself in the position of being one-upped, ie: don't try to meet women on those nights. Make yourself as boring as can be so that he doesn't want to go out with you anymore. Don't tell stories, don't suggest fun pubs, and go home early to go to bed. Hopefully he'll decide you are an absolute stick-in-the-mud and leave you alone.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:02 AM on January 23, 2010


I don't want to be too harsh on the guy. He isn't a bad person. I certainly have my own frequent moments of douchebaggery.

It's just a personality clash that makes hanging with him out no fun for me. I'd rather go out with other friends or have a quiet night in.

But if I'm not discrete about distancing myself from the friendship it will have repercussions at work. I don't think a direct conversation is the way to go, in the UK at least, and it's not like I want him to change or anything. I just don't want to be hanging out on Saturday nights with him.

I think, as people have suggested, I'll make excuses for anyone suggested 1-1s till they stop coming and just grin and bare it at group events.

Now I think about it there are two parts to this. One I don't want to hang out with him because it's no fun and impractical (stops me meeting women).

Two I want to punish him for annoying me. I don't want to accept his ride, or hang out because then he'll be enjoying my friendship which I want to punish him by taking away.

Out of those the second one is silly and little and small of me. I shouldn't do that.
posted by aTrumpetandaDream at 11:04 AM on January 23, 2010


Sorry for not reading the whole thread of responses, but do everything you can to NOT need a ride from him. Take a taxi if you have to; make an excuse for seeing a nearby friend or something. Don't lie, of course. But break everything off. Just end it, but be perfectly respectful and friendly WITHIN your work relationship. Everything outside of that? Doesn't happen.
posted by carlh at 12:31 PM on January 23, 2010


I think marimeko's idea is really good. Hopefully while you're so, so busy "taking a class" (or heck, actually take one) he'll find someone else to glom onto.

As for the party, can't you just say you'll be in [other part of town] before the party so you'll just hop on the train? And then a) leave with some other people, or b) slip out to avoid the ride home.
posted by grapesaresour at 1:20 PM on January 23, 2010


You gotta learn how to draw some lines, dude. The personality clash seems to stem from this guy being a jackass and you being a wimp. Stand up for yourself more. "Hey Trumpet, lets go get some beers tonight!" "Why, so you can steal more women from me?" Stuff like that, bust his balls a bit. It doesn't have to affect your professional relationship, which--if I'm reading you correctly--this guy doesn't have a real professional side if he's talking about confidential work stuff during social hour. "WHISPER WHISPER MARCY JONES IS ON PSYCHIATRIC VACATION WHISPER."
posted by rhizome at 1:27 PM on January 23, 2010


Stand up for yourself more.

I've thought about that... but I don't think so. It could go well... but then again it could go badly and wreck the professional relationship. I want to have this guy onside professionally.

What do I really have to gain by confronting him? He's not going to have a personality transformation. I don't want or expect him to change. I just don't want to hang out with him socially.

When I gave specific examples remember that those are out of context and just one side of the picture. He's not a bad guy. I can give plenty of examples of good things he has done. Despite a few slip ups discussing confidential stuff he really is an excellent professional in many ways and I do respect his work.

I think I'm going to follow this advice from carlh:

Break everything off. Just end it, but be perfectly respectful and friendly WITHIN your work relationship. Everything outside of that? Doesn't happen.
posted by aTrumpetandaDream at 4:49 AM on January 24, 2010


Are there any activities you enjoy but suspect he might not? Perhaps you could get involved with things other than pubs and sports that you could constantly be involved with (and maintain your relationship by inviting him to). Bonus points if its something you're excited about that requires a lot of grunt work (teach little kids soccer/clean up a mountain bike trail/etc). This would also take you out of the pub situation which might help your problems other than the salary stuff. I think you have a really good resource in being well liked by your manager (and that might put you on the fast track to promotions) so I wouldn't be too quick to throw it away, but think of it as salaried time (hopefully paid for by all of the raises you better be getting).
posted by fermezporte at 4:14 PM on January 24, 2010


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