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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Office Friendship Gone Sour

Dear Sue: ďKarenĒ and I started in this company 13 years ago as junior clerks and became good friends. Soon after starting she got a position in the human resources division and I stayed in operations. About five years ago I was given a relatively mundane task that nobody else wanted to do. I did it very well, and began getting other special projects. Recently I received a substantial promotion. I feel it was well deserved, because with each project I took on, I dedicated vast amounts of time and effort. I worked late, through breaks and at home.

Through the years, I noticed that my friendship with Karen was in decline; it seemed as though the only time I heard from her was when she wanted something from me. I am a loner and don't make close friends very quickly, so I ignored my feelings of being used and let our friendship continue on its path. The shock came the day after my promotion was publicly announced; she sent me an email informing me that I shut people out, think I am superior, hurtful to others, and much more. She did say that she cared about me, valued our friendship and asked me not to shut her out.

I waited three weeks before contacting her. In her e-mail she referred to other people who were upset with me, but wouldnít tell me who they were or discuss the incidents that supposedly took place. I am puzzled because I havenít had any disagreements with people or treated any one badly. I am very quiet and keep my opinions to myself and treat people as I want to be treated. As a result of this, I am more reserved than before, and assume everyone feels the same way about me as she does.

I canít figure out why, after all the years of friendship, she would she do this to me. Could my promotion be a factor? With no background to her claims, how do I know if I should believe what she is telling me about other people being upset with me? Please help me put some perspective on this.

- Hurting

Sue Says: Youíre recent promotion likely is a factor, and there are a number of ways to read into the reason for the letter Karen wrote. It is possible that she is reaching out to you out of sheer desperation, care and concern. You describe yourself as someone who keeps to herself and works without breaks to get the job done. Your skill and dedication have been rewarded with this promotion; however, due to your devotion to your job, youíve let your friendships slide. From her perception, it may seem as though you donít care about her or anything other than your work. I am not sure what your friendship was like when you considered it to be good, but if you tend to stay to yourself, perhaps the reason you only heard from her when she wanted something was because she always had to initiate contact with you. If you never reach out to others or spend time getting to know the people you work with, then people are forced to draw their own conclusions about you. They may assume you donít care or that you feel superior to others. The higher the position you hold, the more intimidating you may seem, so it is important to make an effort to connect with others.

You and Karen became friends when you were working together in similar positions and spending a lot of time together. Over the years, you have each moved in different directions, losing the biggest connection you had. Although you work at the same company, if you donít work closely together or see each other often, you have to work harder at remaining close, and it is apparent you havenít done that. It is also possible that Karen is jealous or threatened by your success. People change, and over the course of 13 years, I am sure both of you have changed a lot. She may be having trouble accepting the person you have become and struggling to find a way to regain the friendship you once had.

While it may be easier for you to withdraw, it would benefit you more if you could find some way to comfortably reach out to others. Perhaps Karen is doing you a favor and may be able to be a support for you. While you donít have to rely solely on her input, it is likely that you would benefit by becoming more aware of the way you come across to others. It takes a variety of skills to succeed in life and at work. Youíve worked hard to develop the skills that have enabled you to succeed in your job. Perhaps itís time for you to develop additional skills that will help you relate better to others. Donít be too hard on yourself or Karen. It appears as though you both are hurting, and need to re-connect, and if you do, she may just what you need right now; a friend.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at asksue@suemorem.com or visit her web site at http://www.suemorem.com

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