Dear Lauren: I work with someone who I love dearly as a person, but they’re impossible to be around in a working atmosphere. What’s the best way to deal with this?
I believe it was Confucius who once said, “Don’t sh*t where you eat.” Or maybe it was Shakespeare. It’s truly amazing the amount of information you forget a year out of college. It’s like writing in cursive: Did anyone actually continue that after second grade?
While work life would be so much easier if “The Office” was anything to go by (not to mention hotter. I’d clamor for any desk job where I got to sit next to John Krasinski. Mhmm.), it’s much healthier in the long run to set an ever-elusive “work-life balance.”
This applies more directly to romantic inner-office relationships than friendships. The former is most always a terrible idea. Jim and Pam usually don’t end up together. Sometimes Jim breaks it off, and now Pam is stuck trying not to make awkward eye contact over the printer and pretending to be SUPER absorbed in menial tasks so she doesn’t have to contemplate quitting.
Ugh. I was already bummed about “The Office” ending. Now I’m too sad to come up with office supply metaphors.
Luckily for you, just because your friend is better bar company than project company doesn’t mean you have to break up! It’s unfair to draw a hard line between friendships and coworkers. You see these people for 40 (or, realistically, more) hours a week. That’s more time than I spend with my family. And like any family, no gathering is complete without a little dysfunction.
Take your cues from how you interact with various relatives during Thanksgiving: Under no circumstances will I EVER share tales of my sordid weekend activities with my grandmother. When you’re with your friend at work, try to leave social topics out of conversation. And if you’re together outside of the office, stay away from chatting about work.
That separation will also factor into your behavior around this person. Think about how you act around your cousins of varying ages. You can’t scoff at granddad’s good ol’ fashioned racism with the kids young enough to watch cartoons! And my cousins in their late 20s don’t have the same affinity for hot wheels as the under-10 crowd.
Monitor your interactions with other people during the workday. You might find that in an office setting, you get along best with those you have short conversations with about specific work-related topics. What deadline to set for a budget analysis? Totally kosher. Their issues finding an affordable apartment? Not so much.
Set your boundaries gradually as to not passive aggressively alienate your pal. You can’t just ignore you aunts and uncles’ friend requests on Facebook. You have to gradually set your privacy settings until all they can see is your strategically cropped profile picture. When your friend gchats you at your desk, only respond to work questions. Introduce a few coworkers into your regular lunch table … then stop having lunch together some days. If they want to team up on an assignment, tell them you’re trying to play to your strengths for the boss by taking on a different responsibility. What’s the worst that could happen?
They call you on it. Your friend wants to know why you’ve been acting so strangely at work. Like any clichéd breakup, go with “It’s not you, it’s me.” Seriously, though: Tell your friend that your job is important to you. Almost half of all recent grads are unemployed, and you don’t want to join that statistic. You find yourself easily distracted because you’re such good friends, and you don’t want that to end up screwing you over. Even if your job sucks, you at least need the reference.
Now you’ve given your friend FOUR good reasons to give you your space at work. If they’re still being a dick, tell them they’re being a dick. Which, honestly you could’ve just done in the first place. Here, I wrote you a haiku to give to them a la “Fight Club”:
You’re a great person
But at work, you’re making me
Want to hole punch you