Diplomatic speak for "No, I don't want to be friends with you"?
February 28, 2013 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Glenda thinks because we met up a few times outside work, we can now be besties. Problem is, this time spent together made me realize Glenda is not someone I want to be friends with.

I work with a woman, let's call her Glenda. Being the new person in the office, I hung out with her a few times outside work. We had some things in common, and it was okay, but as I was getting to know her, I found her company more and more irritating.

So I gradually decreased my outside contacts with her, trying to limit our interactions to workplace-related things, hoping she would get the hint. Unfortunately, she now wants to have The Talk about why am I avoiding her.

How do I handle this? What I *really* would like to say is, "Look, you're whiny, clingy, negative, and overbearing, and go away." While saying this it would make me feel better, it's not particularly constructive.

Another option would be to try for pragmatic, constructive feedback, and say "Look, you butt into other people's conversations all the time; talk over people; answer questions directed to other people when you weren't even in the conversation to start with and the question is in their domain of expertise not yours; almost trip over yourself just to say something first even though it's not relevant. All this can look like a lack of respect for others and can be pretty annoying." However, this still sounds fairly mean, and I just don't know if there's any point in bringing it up. On the other hand, she did ask for an explanation.

Or you could go into total professional denial, "I'm sorry, I don't think I have time tomorrow. Problems? What problems?" While this might be best given that we have to work together, I'm not completely convinced, since people generally know when Things Are Not Okay Even Though You Say They Are.

So how can I handle this situation in an ethical and decent way? Is there a way to say "Sorry, it seems our personalities are not a good match; let's just keep things professional? Also, stop being so annoying!" Okay, kidding about the last sentence, but is there a way to say this *without* saying it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Don't focus on the why as it applies to her - an answer like "I'm not available for outside-of-work hangouts very much anymore - I have a few things going on in my life that I want to focus on. I hope you can respect that."

It will be very hard to keep things professional if you tell her personally you don't like her very much - focusing on the outcome you want will be a lot more effective.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 7:08 AM on February 28, 2013 [37 favorites]

Unfortunately, she now wants to have The Talk about why am I avoiding her.

"Glenda, I've been busy and stressed lately and have decided to leave work and work conversations at the office. I like working with you and our other colleagues but I have other relationships I need to maintain."
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:08 AM on February 28, 2013 [15 favorites]

Slow fade. Keep being busy. Eventually she will get the hint. This isn't dating where you want to rip the band-aid off; this is work where you will need to maintain a professional relationship indefinitely.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:13 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

"I think we have very different personalities and I think it might be better if we just keep our relationship professional - what do you think?"

Its not criticising her but its being direct, and if someone said that to me I'd take the hint that we weren't going to be bosom buddies. But asking for her opinion means she might feel like she's still had a part to play in the decision rather than being totally rejected. Just be prepared for a lot of ice afterwards. She sounds very needy so she'll probably take it badly that you don't want to hang out any more, regardless of how you phrase it.
posted by billiebee at 7:13 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh God no do not make this a moratorium on her personality. It's officially not her, it's you. "I like to keep my work and personal life separate, that's all, so while I appreciate that you made me welcome and I've had a chance to get to know you, I just think of us as friendly work colleagues."
posted by DarlingBri at 7:16 AM on February 28, 2013 [17 favorites]

Yeah, no feedback, no discussion of why she's so awful. Just a neutral statement such as any offered above.

I know, you want to blast this wretch and let her know exactly how much she bugs the shit out of you, but trust me, that will end badly.

Go out of your way to be friendly, smile, chat, say good morning, and leave it at that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:23 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think the ideas to make this not about her are good.

However if OP does become friends with others in the office Glenda is likely to notice this and may think "Oh you have time for friends now, let's be friends again" or other drama may ensue ("You have time to be friends with Elphaba but not with me, why????"), given that she wants to have a Talk about you avoiding her rather than just taking the hint.

I hate posting something that just negates other answers without offering another solution but I honestly am not sure what the best solution is and would be genuinely concerned about this if I were in the OP's shoes, given what we know of Glenda's personality.
posted by bunderful at 7:24 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't say that you avoid friendships with colleagues if it's not true. You did spend time with her outside of work, and you're probably going to be friends with other coworkers.

I've had work friends who suddenly got busy. That is a fine and effective way to let her know you don't have time for her. Do tell her that there's nothing really wrong and that she hasn't offended you, and then talk about work.
posted by steinwald at 7:26 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sounds like she's asking whether she said something to upset you, not necessarily seeking a review of her personality, you know? (Which is a good thing, because that would be super-awkward.)

I agree that you don't want to go too far down the road of "I never mix work and friends," to avoid boxing yourself in, but "I'm busy" is a time-honored way of begging off of commitments, and absent her being unhinged (which neither talking too much nor failing at hint-taking indicates to me), she's not going to then monitor your schedule and demand you account for why you went out with so-and-so and not with her. If she does do that, there's nothing wrong with getting a little more direct and saying, "I don't want to get into a back-and-forth about my plans; I'm sure you wouldn't want that either."

I mean, look -- there's no easy way to handle a situation where somebody reached out to you when you were new and didn't know anyone, and now you want out. It's not easy; it's awkward. (It's not wrong of you at all. Just awkward.) I mean, if she's so awful that it would make you feel better to tell her how awful she is (people have to be pretty awful for me to feel that way about them, I find), you probably wouldn't have been hanging out with her in the first place except that she was your only option, but she didn't have any way of knowing that. So she thought you were becoming friends, and now she's confused.

I would just keep telling her that you're not angry with her and there's nothing really to talk about, and then -- as others have mentioned -- talk about work. You're not obligated to hang out with anyone you don't want to hang out with, but I think mercy will, in the long run, make you feel better than venting.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:46 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I strongly disagree with the other responses. With someone like this you will drive them even crazier if you give them an obvious white lie, and I personally think on principle that it's disrespectful to lie to someone when they are directly asking you what's wrong. I know this is the norm in our culture but I still think it's weaselly. Be honest with her without getting too specific. I like your idea of saying that you don't think your personalities are compatible. It will sting and be a bit awkward at first but she will be less likely to try and revive the friendship and it will be easier for her to move on.
posted by timsneezed at 8:11 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm going to disagree with basically everyone. You more or less have to say it's about her, because she's directly asking you. "I've decided to not hang out with coworkers" or "I've got a lot of stuff going on in my life right now" is the equivalent of saying "I'm not ready to date right now" -- it's a lie, she'll know it's a lie, and it's disrespectful. Just because you don't want to be besties with her doesn't mean you don't have to treat her with basic human decency.

If I were in her situation I'd want the pragmatic feedback, so I'd know what to change. (It would actually be AMAZING if people told me something like that!) I don't know what she'd prefer, though.
posted by dekathelon at 8:13 AM on February 28, 2013

You're new in the office, so presumably you don't have a very fixed social pattern with those people yet. If you don't care to socialize after hours with most co-workers, that's great. You can just do the "I like to keep my work life separate" thing. Or even say you don't like to go out much, period, if that is close enough to true. It's only if you are obviously a social butterfly or go out with a bunch of other people from the office that it even borders on looking like it's about her personally.

I wouldn't be in a big hurry to disassociate from her at the office. It sounds like she is unhappy and a bit of lame duck. (Is she by any chance that individual who is not very well assimilated into the group who jumps all over the new person, trying to bond?) Other people are almost certainly irritated by her too and will appreciate it if you do what you can to minimize the friction she creates. Try treating her like everyone else but just a little more graciously.
posted by BibiRose at 8:16 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having just solved a similar problem with a personal/professional friend this week, heh heh, I think I can speak to this!

If this woman is a friend, you owe her an explanation. If she's an acquaintance, you don't owe her anything. In fact, it's rude to be brutally honest with someone you're not close to--even if she's soliciting a talk, it doesn't mean she's prepared for a hard truth. So no matter how annoying you find her, avoid the impulse to tell her she sucks. You'll only add victimhood to her roster of awesome qualities.

Inspector's and Darling's phrasings are great. Don't make this a Talk, make it a chat. Fake a little warmth and express that you're glad you've gotten the chance to know each other a little outside of work, and you know she wouldn't hold it against you if hanging with coworkers after-hours sometimes feels like more work.

Just whatever you do, DON'T talk about this woman behind her back. It WILL get back to her and you will look like a conniving backbiter. The high road is a great place to be, and if she truly does have such negative qualities, they'll make themselves known to all in good time.
posted by piratesriding at 8:22 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I got in this situation, only worse because the woman had (has?) feelings for my then boyfriend now fiance. She had worked on a committee with him a year or two before he and I became an item, and even though they were little more than acquiantances she considered him "hers" first. As I tried to step away from the relationship (mostly by being busy) she became more and more inappropriate towards him, including bashing me to him. Yeah... super sane, that one.

But I digress. I think you are stuck between two crap solutions:
1. deny you have any issue with her and just be busy
2. explain to her (gently or not) why you don't wish to be her friend

Solution #1 makes it likely that she'll continue to try to be your friend and maybe get even more clingy. Solution #2 makes it likely that your working relationship will become strained and awkward.

Personally, I would go with #1. I would normally go for the honesty option, but where you are new to the office you should go with the low drama option. This isn't a situation where you can have the awakard talk and then not let her have any separate space to lick her wounds. You would be probably laying out all her insecurities and things she worries about, and then she has to see you every day at work... that would suck for her. That is like getting dumped and then having to see your ex every day. Plus, it could turn bad for you too. You don't want to have your "talk" with her where you explain why she is so annoying, and then have her be so insulted/hurt that she starts badmouthing you to other co-workers. You don't want your work environment and/or reputation to be impacted because of this, and believe me it can. The same crazy person in my situation above got angry at another co-worker for trying to step away from being friends with her so she trash talked her to her boss and anyone who would listen. That crazy person almost cost the other co-worker a major promotion.

This friendship divorce needs to be about self preservation. Don't shoot yourself in the foot. Be busy and unavailable outside work, but maintain a friendly working relationship. You'll still have to deal with a bit of her nonsense, but it is likely the best move career wise.

also, piratesriding is soooooo bang on about staying on the high road. No bad mouthing or trashing her. It will get back to her, it always does, and be extremely hurtful. Only speak about her in a way that you'd be okay with her overhearing. Keep it classy in the workplace. It'll pay off in the end.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:25 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You just hung out a few times. This is not a close relationship. For all you know she might be your boss in ten years. If you can't get away with "I'm busy, and I'm not sure when I'll have time to hang out with you outside of work again" the absolute most brutal honesty you need here is "Sorry, I don't want to go to happy hour with you, but thanks for asking."
posted by steinwald at 8:39 AM on February 28, 2013

You work with her. For the love of pete, don't say anything about your actual feelings about her.

Instead say, "Yeah, I really liked hanging out when I first started my job! I was new to town [or insert other appropriate circumstance that change - it could even be something like "I was taking a break from being worship leader at my church" or "my kids were away at summer camp"] and really appreciate you making me feel welcome. Unfortunately, I really don't have the free time I did when I started working here due to [time commitment]. Hope that changes sometime - I'd enjoy spending time together again - but I don't see it happening soon."

Maybe have the occasional work lunch. Done. Keeping cordial, somewhat distant relationships with coworkers is really important, IMO. If you tell her what you think of her, rather than having a distant wistful almost-friend, you definitely have an enemy who will not enjoy working with you and may look for ways to torpedo you in obvious and nonobvious ways.
posted by arnicae at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

"I've decided to not hang out with coworkers" or "I've got a lot of stuff going on in my life right now" is the equivalent of saying "I'm not ready to date right now" -- it's a lie, she'll know it's a lie

That is exactly the point... even (especially) the "both sides know we're lying" part is the point: it's a social grace that people allow both sides of the conversation to prevent awkwardness and hurt, as well as plausible deniability since they can both "pretend" it's the truth if they want to. Maybe Glenda doesn't want to change. Maybe she likes her personality as it is. Maybe the last thing she wants to hear is "I don't like for for reasons X, Y, and Z." The point is not that someone needs constructive criticism. The point is that two people need to go their separate ways because they're not a good match.
posted by deanc at 8:43 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

If I were in her situation I'd want the pragmatic feedback, so I'd know what to change.

This doesn't sound like it's a "change this" situation. People who talk a lot are going to continue to talk a lot; not everyone defers to whoever the expert is, and not everyone considers that a prerequisite to conversation. (In other words, Glenda might have other friends or family who consider her way of making conversation perfectly fine.) This thing about her might change around the edges, but it will not change at the center as a result of one person saying "I don't like you for this reason."

You can ask people not to do something like insult you or ask intimate questions ("It really bothers me when you ask about my marriage"). You can't really ask people to have different personalities, which is what this seems to be about. If she were doing something identifiably wrong that she could fairly easily not do, you'd have a different problem. The fact that these aren't things she's likely to be able to change about herself are the exact reason, I think, why the OP dreads having a conversation about it. The issue here is that the OP doesn't enjoy the essence of her personality, and nobody needs to have the essence of her personality critiqued by someone she barely knows.

It's awkward not to like someone enough that you don't want to socialize with them anymore when you have in the past. There's no way to do it that's not awkward. Telling her she has a disagreeable personality serves some people's ideas of honesty, but it won't improve the situation, like, at all.

I'm sticking with "be firm but vague."
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:02 AM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm the honest type (maybe too honest, haha), so I'm of the opinion that you can tell her about her annoying behaviour (if you care about her and want to be friends, that is). Because let's face it, you can do two things about her behaviour: you can bitch about it behind her back, or you can approach her and tell her tactfully about her annoying behaviour and maybe because of you she'll see how irritating she is not just to you, but to everyone else too.

The key is to be kind and tactful, using amicable phrases like "you tend to complain a lot" or "I feel that you're quite negative and it's hard for me to deal with that". No snark, sarcasm or attempts to make fun of her -- only neutral language. Also, avoid being accusatory and try to get it across that you do care about her and want to be friends. Then continue being cordial and kind at the workplace and she'll see through your actions that you aren't being personal or deliberately bitchy. Scale down the hanging out though, if you find her too exhausting.

Re your above example, try this instead: "I've observed that you tend to butt into other people's conversations all the time; talk over people; answer questions actually directed to other people when you weren't even in the conversation to start with and the question is in their domain of expertise not yours; and mention irrelevant facts on a frequent basis almost trip over yourself just to say something first even though it's not relevant. All this can look like a lack of respect for others and can be pretty annoying."

Lastly, if you don't really want to be friends outside of mandatory work contact, just tell her it's not her, it's that you've been very busy lately and let's hang out more when things ease up for me.

If she reacts badly to your attempts at being kind, then I say you've tried your best and it's really her problem!
posted by rozaine at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay then again if you work with her (ie see her everyday) maybe just go with the I've been swamped outside work so maybe we can hang out when things ease up for me thing. Less drama.
posted by rozaine at 10:03 AM on February 28, 2013

This person has not done anything really bad or wrong. She annoys you. Other people might just see a fun, bubbly extrovert who loves to chat and tries really hard to help people. If you were her close friend or mentor of course it would be OK to tell her if she's shooting herself in the foot by jumping into conversations too often. You barely know her and you dislike her. It would be nicer to let her friends and/or supervisors point out her flaws.
posted by steinwald at 12:09 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

the "both sides know we're lying" part is the point: it's a social grace that people allow both sides of the conversation to prevent awkwardness and hurt

Someone who knows she's been lied to, after asking a direct question, is probably going to feel awkward and hurt. (And you know what else will suck a LOT for her? Having to see the person who lied to her face every day.) Another way to prevent awkwardness and hurt is not to lie. It's easy! Just don't lie!
posted by dekathelon at 1:36 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I guess I'm coming from a very different place. There are two things that are ironclad morals to me: one, it is wrong and fundamentally disrespectful of basic human decency to lie, especially in response to a direct question; two, it is wrong to knowingly lead someone on. (Which does not mean you're responsible for people getting the wrong impression, creepy friendzoning dudes, say; but saying something like "I'd enjoy spending time together again" sends a VERY clear signal and will absolutely lead her on.) Like, all of the following suggestions are dishonest and will end up hurting her:

"Let's hang out more sometime." NO. The OP has made it very clear that she does not want to hang out more. Saying this is the equivalent of leading her on; it will get her hopes up that the OP still likes her. The OP uses language like "Look, you're whiny, clingy, negative, and overbearing, and go away" to describe Glenda; clearly she does not like her or want to hang out more sometime.

"I'd enjoy spending time together again." NO. See above.

"I like to keep my work life separate." No. Or, rather, it's fine if OP does like to keep work life separate, but it doesn't seem like that's the case. OP would have mentioned this or not gotten into the Glenda situation in the first place. (And the lie will unravel the minute someone else OP finds more acceptable comes along.)

"I'm busy." No. I hate this excuse, and it's always an excuse. Unless you are Barack Obama, you are probably not so busy that you can't make time for people you genuinely want to see. It's weaselly and avoids the real reason.

I'm speaking from personal experience here. I am Glenda. A number of colleagues, or friends from work, or ex-friends, or I don't even know what the fuck to call them, have lied to my face before, and let me tell you, it hurts so much more to remember it or deal with them -- like, the thought of it can make me literally nauseous and teary, and it's starting just remembering it now -- than if they'd just been honest with me.
posted by dekathelon at 1:48 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try not to think of it as "lying" as much as "speaking in a socially-agreed-upon code language."

Some of this depends on how socially clueful Glenda is. It's highly likely that she's been blown off before (as we all have) and probably understands what, "Gosh, I'm just really busy these days and don't have time to hang out," means. Even if she doesn't, that should always be your first resort.

"I'm busy." No. I hate this excuse, and it's always an excuse. Unless you are Barack Obama, you are probably not so busy that you can't make time for people you genuinely want to see.

EXACTLY. Which is why we know when someone says, "Oh, sorry, I'm really busy these days," it is meant as a polite brush-off.

There's a no reason to escalate this with someone you barely know. Keep it light as you detach from her a bit.
posted by deanc at 2:35 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

[Folks, please keep answers directed towards the OP?]
posted by jessamyn at 2:58 PM on February 28, 2013

#1 - Don't socialize with people outside of work.

Grab one drink together with the group if you must every now and then to schmooze and be friendly, but then politely leave. Be busy outside of work. Never never never get personal with co-workers, especially if you work in an office. Don't do it. OK? Cool.

#2 - Glenda is grossly overstepping if she wants to have The Talk with you since (and especially because!) you are coworkers! Holy Geezus! She's nutz. Handle this carefully.

You are entirely right to want to avoid this conversation at all costs. Nothing good can come of it. It can poison your professional life in this office.

Unfortunately you must do something. Here's what I recommend:

I like the version where you listen politely to Glenda and then lightheartedly brush off her concerns by saying that you "don't have as much free time lately/are working hard in your new position because you want to do well/hadn't noticed there was anything amiss, gosh, you've been so swamped!"

Have a coffe with her now and then, after all, this is office politics. Be cool. Be cool.

Glenda is emotionally unstable, and that is not your problem. What is your problem is that you work with Glenda and you want to keep things as smooth as possible at the office.

Be nice to Glenda, and don't hang out with her outside of work ever again.

Good luck. Hope your conversation goes well.

posted by jbenben at 4:00 PM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Is Glenda an Asker or a Guess person? Seems like we have responses of both sorts above. Personally as an Ask type I'd never ask this kind of a question without expecting pragmatic feedback on what to change, so I'd give her that as politely and fairly as I could.
Have the chat outside of work hours and away from the workplace to make it easier if things get weird. That way you can tell the truth, Glenda gets the feedback she needs/is asking for, and you don't need to hang out with her outside of work. Goodluck! I'd love to hear how it goes too!
posted by EatMyHat at 6:11 PM on February 28, 2013

I assume OP will have other friends outside of work. Saying she doesn't want to socialize with work people outside of work will be a lie and Glenda will decide that OP is a bitch. Telling her you don't like her will hurt her feelings and make her possibly hate you. Telling her that she butts into conversations and disrespects people, etc. leaves the impression that if she stops doing that, you'll be friends, but you won't even if she did try to change the behavior. OP needs to work with her and see her regularly -- saying a lie Glenda can figure out or making Glenda feel like shit really are not options.

Personally, I'd just not say anything and keep being unavailable. If you must, claim to be busy. No one is actually that busy so she should know that "busy" means "too busy for you, forever." Eventually she will get the hint that you don't want to hang out, but she won't have some sort of reason to be bitter about. She will just have to accept the only thing that is obvious, which is that you don't want to be friends. Maybe it'll make her feel bad, but the open unanswered possibility means she is left to rationalize it in other, non-hurtful ways. Maybe your socially awkward? Maybe you are busy? Maybe you got a new boyfriend? Etc. And then, you can keep being friendly and professional at work without her thinking that you can't stand interacting with her.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:06 PM on February 28, 2013

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