How can you make work tolerable and save the friendship?
Q: A few months ago, I joined a new company and began working with a friend whom I really value outside work. The trouble is that at the office, she is driving me crazy. And she’s possibly jeopardizing my good standing.
It turns out my friend is deeply insecure in her job. She throws tantrums several times a week, threatening to quit over minor things (and expecting me to walk her back from the cliff).
Worse, she undermines me, sometimes in front of bosses. Once she “pulled rank” on me, even though she has been at the company only a month longer than I have. She speaks up about projects that are in my area, not hers, but doesn’t actually help out. At a recent meeting with supervisors, she even presented my ideas as her own. On days when she is not in, I’m happy and productive.
This is wearing on me. I need to disconnect from her professionally while maintaining our friendship if possible. Our boss is very hands-off, and I feel there is no chance she would be helpful here. Please help. — Anonymous
A: While you need to have some kind of talk with your friend, this does not have to be a relationship-wrecking confrontation, if you frame things carefully.
First, make some distinctions in your own mind between behaviors that are annoying (tantrums, the random butting-in) and those that are really potentially damaging (undermining you in front of your boss, stealing your ideas).
The latter you should address directly, just as you would with any colleague. Take on such problems as they arise, don’t let them slide — or, worse, pile up. Start with a frank response that lets her off the hook somewhat but sends a clear message: “You presented my perpetual-motion machine concept as if it were yours — why did you do that?” If such habits persist, be more blunt: “Maybe you don’t mean it this way, but when you say X to our boss, that causes me problem Z.” Be civilized but firm, leaving out any “I know we’re friends, but …” caveats. (And if you feel clarifying, for instance, the ownership of an idea with your manager is useful, do so.)
Policing these more substantial offenses might make your work relationship more tolerable in general. If not, you still have room to draw some boundaries — and you might find the most effective way to do so is to position this as a reflection of your preferences, not her limitations.
For this conversation, I think you do want to reference your relationship: “Look, I really value our friendship, and maybe this is just my personality, but I think we should have some boundaries at the office so that work doesn’t complicate things between us. And after all, we work in different areas, so there’s no reason for me to involve myself in your work — and vice versa.”
You can fill in whatever specifics make the most sense for you, but reiterate that this is about the friendship: It’s just not worth jeopardizing that over workplace pettiness.