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Decision time: coworker or best friend?

Q. I have a co-worker with whom I’ve started to develop a social relationship outside of work. Around other people, she’s supportive, and never says anything negative. Yet, when we get together for lunch, she’ll make unflattering comments to the effect that I “don’t make much money,” that my efforts to volunteer as a mediator are useless because “attorneys and judges outrank me,” and that my therapist takes personal phone calls during sessions because “she’s using her status over me” not because she’s rude or unprofessional.

I’ve taken her previous comments in stride, but I’d like to let her know that it seems as if she’s the one who thinks people have the one-up on me, including herself. What’s a polite way of saying this without damaging our work relationship?

Anonymous

A. As you’ve discovered, the woman who is supportive at work is taking an aggressive, superior stance in her role as your new friend. While she may see herself as some kind of mentor, she’s critical without giving any real advice. The relationships we have at work don’t always translate into good social ones. Sharing too much personal information with work associates can put you at a disadvantage and impact you both personally and professionally. While you’ve taken the opportunity to get to know this woman better, there seems to be no benefit, especially to your self-esteem, in taking it further.


Since you’d like to maintain the work relationship, choose your path carefully. Tempting as it may be to call her on her attitude, there’s no telling how she may react. If she’s in an authority role at work, you may be better off saying nothing.
Rather than confronting her directly, I recommend that you continue to be cordial at the office, but see less of her outside of work and let the social relationship taper off. When you do talk to her, stop sharing personal information. Keep the subject off you, and stick to neutral or work-related topics such as “How are you doing with the Maxwell contract?” Shift the emphasis back to your professional relationship.

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