Distance myself from an annoying work friend
May 23, 2015 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I've got a coworker who I've gotten to know over the last 6ish months. He's made a big attempt to be friends. We've hung out together socially a few times. I've realized that I just can't stand his personality. I don't enjoy spending time with him. He's not a bad person. I just don't enjoy hanging out with him.

Last year I moved to a new job in a new state. As a smoker, I met another smoker who works for the same company but a different department. Almost immediately, I became his smoke buddy. I didn't particularly like him.

He was very pushy, like asking what my lunch plans were every single day. He drinks alot and just about every Monday I have to hear about all this drama that happened with his boyfriend over the weekend when they were both drunk. He was looking for a new job and had a few interviews coming up, so I figured he would get another job and I could put up with him for a little bit and then just fade away. I did invite him to go to a concert with me when I was still trying to see if he would grow on me. He kept trying to pressure me to drink, even though he knows I'm not a big drinker.

It's now over 6 months later and he is still working for my company and is pushing hard to be really good friends. He insists on always going out for smoke breaks together and he tries to invite himself into my plans. I recently went on vacation with some friends from my home state and made it seem like it was just a trip with me and my husband so that he wouldn't invite himself along.

Another complicating factor: his cubicle is in front of the door to our floor, so he's right there when I walk into work every day.

I haven't given him an indication that I don't want to be friends other than not inviting him to anything (though sometimes he invites himself and tags along). I have just tried to be nice and not do anything with him.

I have avoided just straight up telling him I don't like him because I don't like to hurt someone's feelings who been nothing but nice to me. It would have been ok if he could just be work friends, but it seems like he wants to be my best friend.

How do I distance myself from him? Or is it too late and do I just have to be honest with him?
posted by LizBoBiz to Human Relations (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"Stu, I have this thing where I have to sort of... divest myself of work when I walk out the door. Otherwise, I just can't stop thinking about [insert work-related anecdote here], and I just can't let that stuff live in my head All. The. Time. and seeing you outside of work makes all that stuff come up."
posted by Etrigan at 7:45 AM on May 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't tell him you don't like him, but I think you may need to tell him that you want to keep some distance between your personal life and professional life. Or else just keep doing what you're doing: don't invite him or hang out with him outside of work. When he tries to make plans or invite himself, just politely decline or deflect.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:46 AM on May 23, 2015

For starters, stop all references to your personal future plans --- don't tell him you're going on a trip to x, don't tell him you're going out to dinner or to a show or concert, and definitely don't invite him along.

Don't be actively rude at work, just go out for your smoke breaks when you want to, without stopping by his cubicle to see if he'd like to join you. Just go out and smoke, and go back in when you're done: don't wait until he is also ready to go out, don't wait for him to finish for you to come back in. Sure, he'll see you going out and come join you, but that's not the same as you stopping by and inviting him. Also, if he stops by your desk and invites you to go smoke? Just tell him some version of "not right now, thanks".
posted by easily confused at 7:46 AM on May 23, 2015 [18 favorites]

This would be an excellent opportunity to stop smoking at work, if not completely. That'll drive in the first wedge, and then if he comes to find you and gab, don't tell him what you're up to so he can't invite himself along. Maintain your boundaries, he'll get irritated with you and give up eventually.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:57 AM on May 23, 2015 [42 favorites]

You don't have to tell him you don't like him in order to create boundaries and letting him know that whatever thing you're doing does not include him. I am also someone who has a hard time with this and I think part of it is being a geek and worrying that if I am telling someone I do not want to do a thing with them it means I am excluding them in some way that is bad. But really, people are allowed to be discerning about their friends and you're certainly allowed to go somewhere with your friends without another friend "tagging along" especially someplace like a vacation. This is a little more complicated because he is used to tagging along but that's okay, you are allowed to change your mind. And whether you like him doesn't matter as much as what you're going to do (spend less time with him).

He sounds work-lonely and it's probably worth being more clear about what you do and do not want to do as far as interacting with him and having some scripts for that. Be clear, be friendly if you don't think he's being a creep, but if he's not getting the picture it's okay to be a little more firm.

- When you go out with other people: "Bob, I'm going to go to lunch with just Karen today, she has some things she needs to talk about so it's going to be just us"
- When you come in to work: "Good morning Bob" (and keep walking)
- If he asks what's up: "We have different social lives and I've been busy with __________"
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 AM on May 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

"I quit smoking. No thanks."
posted by jbenben at 8:35 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is what the slow fade was made for, but people don't emphasis the slow part enough. It takes a long time to signal to a clueless person you see every day that you're not their friend. You don't want to be his friend, which means intimacy of any kind is out, which means no explanation of your wants or needs or feelings which means no "i need to keep work and life separate" conversation. This conversation opens a door to drama or to bargaining or just feels enough like a confidence that you seem like a friend, which you're not and don't want to be.

Like suggested above either stop smoking at work or take smoke breaks alone. If he comes along anyway, cut your smoke short, don't wait, get back to work. "Oh, hi, but I'm going back in now"

You stay polite but vague, so, like suggested above you don't discuss your social plans. You say Hi, how are you, and when asked how you are or what's up, you answer with something very vague. Even direct questions like "So what did you do this weekend" or "What did you think of Fury Road". You say "Oh, I had a good weekend" even though it does not answer the question directly or "I haven't seen it yet" even if you are BURSTING with opinions. Then you say "This WEENIS is not going to write itself. Chat with you later." and put your head down into your work.

This signals that you're not rude or hateful, just that you're busy, dull and uninteresting and Coworker should seek entertainment elsewhere. This is one of those situations where any deviation from the freezing out resets the clock. Which is frustrating because--for instance--you've been maintaining your fade and then Different Coworker rounds up six people, including THIS Coworker, for lunch and now you either have to decline lunch altogether--so as to have no social interaction with him--or figure out some way to go to lunch with him while still failing to interact with him or reset the clock.

In the unlikely event he comes up to you and says "LizBoBiz, don't you like me?" or "are you mad at me?" or something else grossly inappropriate, keep your face neutral or slightly puzzled, take a beat, smile and say "I'm just concentrating on work." and go back to work. Don't reset your fade by offering a personal insight about your feelings or need to keep work & life separate or an excuse that you have other things on your mind or anything but a blank wall of polite deflection.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:58 AM on May 23, 2015 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the helpful comments. A couple of things:

I don't want to use the worklife/personal life separate thing because we really don't interact about work. He's strictly someone on my floor who also smokes.

He will ask me what I am doing this weekend just about every week. If I mention that I am doing anything, I have to be very vague about it or he will try to come along. If I say I'm doing nothing, he invites me to do something, and I have to come up with some excuse to say no.

Even quitting smoking! He knows I'm about to quit soon and says we can quit together and walk around the building instead of smoke.

He's not creepy, just very persistent.

I feel like I've gotten myself into a real pickle here.
posted by LizBoBiz at 9:15 AM on May 23, 2015

If he asks what you're doing this weekend, why can't you just respond without really saying anything? Oh, this and that. Oh, just hanging out. Catching up on life. Enjoying the nice weather.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

No worries, it's not you, this guy is a definite Office Personality Type. It sounds like you're actually handling it pretty well, and part of the solution may also lie in trusting yourself, thus naturally resulting in less headspace for the guy.

He will ask me what I am doing this weekend just about every week. If I mention that I am doing anything, I have to be very vague about it or he will try to come along. If I say I'm doing nothing, he invites me to do something, and I have to come up with some excuse to say no.

Yep, you've got your solution: continue being vague, and never say you're without plans.

He knows I'm about to quit soon and says we can quit together and walk around the building instead of smoke.

"Actually, I'm planning on using the extra time to get more work done." And if you ever do go outside on your own? Always have your phone on you. "Sorry, no time to chat, just came out to check my messages. See ya!"
posted by fraula at 9:32 AM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

People have mentioned so many good things already so here are just a few more thoughts.

The excuse of being too busy is great right here; you know, where you're vague but specific enough to end the conversation. Like crush-onastick and others have said, the slow fade really DOES work, it just has to be slow and consistent enough.

Something else to consider: sometimes the occasional hang out can do wonders in that your "duty" is fulfilled (that that you owe this person anything) so they're satisfied because you're being just friendly enough. Perhaps something that your whole office group could get invited to, like eating lunch together once or twice a month? Of course, there are some people for whom a total absence is best but, since you work together and he's nice enough, the rare group thing during work hours might be appropriate.
posted by smorgasbord at 9:40 AM on May 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

One more thing: I think nearly everyone has been in this situation, and generally on both sides of the equation even. It sucks but it does get easier within a few weeks or even months. I want to reiterate that it's not your responsibility to help him makes friends but it sounds like he's kind of lonely and looking for friends; it's likely that you are a great person to talk to but also that he's not as socially-aware, because many people can get the hint when a conversation drones on, even if the initial invitation was genuine.
posted by smorgasbord at 9:44 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Upon you're update - that level of persistence sounds creepy!

I suggest a white lie. Don't preface it with "I really like you" or whatever. Just deliver the news.

"Glen. It's causing problems for my husband that I'm so friendly with other men. I won't be taking smoke breaks. Please don't ask me about my social plans. I'm focusing on my marriage. Thank you for understanding."

Or maybe that particular excuse is gossipy, but you get the idea. You need to set boundaries "no more smoke breaks, no more social plans" and stick with it.

Nicotine gum. No more smoke breaks.
posted by jbenben at 10:13 AM on May 23, 2015

Take a book with you on your breaks - let him know you'd like to use your break time to read.
posted by kbar1 at 10:13 AM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes! A book!

I think you are studying new materials for a class you are taking or a new project at work, right??

Don't go with the jealousy angle I suggested, but I think subterfuge is necessary. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:18 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not in a pickle as much as you need a script. Could this work?

Him: What's up for the weekend?
You: Huh, don't really know yet. Lots of errands, never enough time to get everything done. Hoping to get in some relaxation time (see, you can't ARGUE with a person's need for relaxation time)!

Him: I'm going to _____; you should come, it's going to be great!
You: Yeah, that sounds great. I'll be too busy, but have a great time.

Him: (persistently pressing it)
You: I'll text you if I'm free, but have fun!

(don't text him)
posted by kinetic at 10:38 AM on May 23, 2015 [11 favorites]

We all try to look cool even when we don't mean to. It really goes against the grain to advertize ourselves as being uninteresting, but that's a major part of the slow fade - you don't stop talking to them, you don't make personal excuses, you just get really really boring.

What are you doing this weekend? "Oh, the usual checklist - got to clean, got some yardwork, it'll be pretty awful. TV (video games) with my husband, we don't get enough time together." If you're going somewhere that sounds fun (i.e. undeniably taking vacation days and known to have bought tickets to Mexico) then you're probably traveling with your in-laws. Play up whatever differences in personality you have. Drinking vs not-drinking, going out vs nesting with your husband, whatever hobby or TV show you like that he'd hate, love your job vs him looking for another, etc. Whatever unawesome (to him) thing you're doing, you are so not-cool that you are content with that.
posted by aimedwander at 11:23 AM on May 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, also deflect by working hard: A smoke break right now?

No, I've got a thing at [nearest half-hour increment]. (assuming your office has meetings and deadlines)
Oh, I just got back in, you weren't at your desk when I went out. (this may take finagling since he can see the door from his desk - can you see his desk from yours?)
Oh, I can't, I've got to buckle down, I just had coffee with Sue.
Yeah, yeah, give me a sec to finish this email, I'll meet you out there in a second. (aka 10 minutes)
Oh, sure, let's go. (5 minutes, half a cig "I'm cutting back") okay, I've gotta get back to it, my (thing) is due today.
posted by aimedwander at 11:31 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help. I now have lots of strategies. I'll try these as best I can.

I think the main step will be to try to limit going out together, and when I do go out with him, try to be as bland and boring as possible.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:12 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jessamyn said: People are allowed to be discerning about their friends...

It took me decades to learn this lesson, but it is oh so true! As women, many of us have been conditioned to be "nice", polite, and to consider other people's feelings (sometimes at the expense of our own comfort). I have this problem and I still struggle with it on occasion, but as the years go on, I've learned that in order to preserve my equilibrium and repel people like your pushy, boundary-crossing workmate (inviting himself on your vacation?! Seriously, who does that?), it's better to be honest and sometimes (gasp!) flat out rude. It's okay to reset your boundaries with someone, anyone -- whether they are work associates, friends, relatives, doesn't matter -- at any time. If you are uncomfortable with your level of interaction, assess what would make YOU feel better, not the other person, and start firmly enforcing those terms.

In the case of your workmate, you say that you don't really like the guy and I can't say I blame you, but I understand that there's a need to be cordial to avoid friction in the workplace. Under these circumstances, if I were you, I'd start wearing earphones at all times when not working... on breaks, at lunch, anytime he can see you. Pretend that you're immersed in learning a new language or really involved in an audiobook series and need to make the most of your free time since you're so busy these days. You don't even have to really be listening to anything, just let him think that you are. If he tries to interrupt tell him, "Sorry! Busy..." If he gestures for you to take out your earphones, take them out ONE TIME only and explain your new hobby and that you don't have time to socialize like before. If he gestures again, shake your head "No." and walk away. Keep up that cordial, but slightly icy attitude until he gets the picture. Eventually he'll leave you alone and start inflicting himself on someone else more accommodating.

He might think, "Sheesh! What's gotten into her?" Or "Man, when did LizBoBiz turn into such a bitch?" It matters not! All that matters is that you have re-established your boundaries and can now go to work without dread, knowing that you don't have to interact with someone who emotionally drains you.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 1:10 PM on May 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

So much good stuff already. I'm also a fan of the slow fade.

Pretend that you're immersed in learning a new language or really involved in an audiobook series and need to make the most of your free time since you're so busy these days.

Why pretend? I really do create my alone time by playing language immersion tapes. It's an awesome way to spend some time in a completely different zone. Though it is also kind of anti-social.
posted by kanewai at 2:48 PM on May 23, 2015

Wait, you don't really work with this person? In this case, I think maybe a bit of rudeness might be fine. When he bangs on about his drama filled boozy weekend, comment truthfully eg. "Maybe you should think about drinking less" or "Most of your problems seem to be from drinking too much". And if he tried to invite himself along, say "It's not really an open invite event" or "It's not appropriate for me to invite other people along". Why not. He might be a bit hurt, but that should be that he's a bit more discerning about his pushiness and conversation topics.
posted by kjs4 at 3:34 AM on May 25, 2015

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