Interpersonal EDGE: Fixes for Soured Workplace Friendship
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services

Q. I've been buddies for a couple of years with a coworker. I think she's avoiding me. I consider her a good friend and want to fix the problem. What's the best way to mend the rift?

A. First off you need to find out if she's avoiding you. Catch her when she is alone and not rushed, and ask if you have done something upsetting. Even if she isn't honest with you, her body language will probably tell you the truth. When people are upset and don't want to talk they tend to look down, look away, or try to stop the conversation quickly.

If she is upset with you understand that most people at work have three myths about relationships:

1. Good relationships never get ruptured by conflict.

2. If conflict occurs, one of the two people must be a bad person.

3. Once a conflict occurs in a relationship, the relationship is over.

Here's the reality of workplace friendships:

1. Every professional relationship that lasts long enough will have conflict.

2. Conflict is a normal result of differences between people.

3. There are lots of tools you can learn to repair relationships.

When our computer has a broken CD burner, we don't throw out the whole machine. When our car has a flat tire, we don't declare the car totaled. When our work relationships become broken ... we often aren't so rational.

When friends at work are upset with us the usual response is to avoid us or keep the conversation superficial. Most people will assume that trying to address the conflict will only make the problem worse. Most people are also scared to death of quarrels in or out of the workplace.

If you look closely at poor decisions that get made at work, you'll usually see a person or people who are trying to avoid conflict. Ironically, many people will lose customers, money or opportunities just to steer clear of a disagreement. If people are willing to lose money to avoid a fight, you can easily see most folks would certainly be willing to lose a friend.

To mend the rift, you need to make sure you don't scare your friend anymore than she already is by the possible disagreement. Pick a neutral place like lunch or coffee. Let her know how much you value her friendship and that you would want to work out any differences between the two of you. Then let her talk.

If you think your conflict skills are rusty, consider reading "Difficult Conversations," by Stone, Patton and Heen.

It takes two to repair a relationship. You can take responsibility, explain misunderstandings, and express affection to mend the workplace fences. If your friend still wants to avoid the discussion, or gets stuck in anger or blame, you cannot force her to reconnect.

Coworkers who have the substance to become good long-term friends will not declare a relationship totaled because you've hit your first conflict. Warren Buffett, the investor, has an elderly employee who survived World War II. Buffett has been quoted as saying that he likes this woman's definition of friendship. She defines a friend as "someone who would hide me from the Nazis."

Conflict simply reveals the true nature of a human being. If you've discovered your friendship was never true, grieve the friendship and accept your status as distant coworker.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.INTERPERSONAL EDGE. DISTRIBUTED BY TMS

This column was printed in July 18, 2010 - July 31, 2010 edition


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