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Confused and upset over being rebuffed by a friend at work

Published: February 2, 2013 | By | 7 Replies Continue Reading
A reader asks how to handle being rebuffed by a friend—and given the cold shoulder at work.


Hi Irene,

My friend has pushed me out of her life recently and I don’t know why. We used to talk about everything, do things together 4-5 times a week, and we always had fun.

We also work together and would talk daily at work. However, over the last 4 weeks she has been very distant. She hasn’t called or texted except to ask a work-related question.

I have gone to her office to talk and I get the cold shoulder, I have asked her to go to dinner and she says she’s just so busy. It’s gotten to the point where we hardly even say anything.

I’ve kind of left her alone, trying to give her some space, but I want to know why she is being like this. What should I do? I want to talk to her about it but I also know she gets very defensive. I am confused as to why she has suddenly decided she doesn’t want anything to do with me. I have to admit I am very upset about this. We were VERY close for about the last year or so. Should I talk to her and what should I say to her? (BTW: There is a big age difference between us, twenty years.)

Signed, Cindy


Hi Cindy,

It’s always hard to be rebuffed by a close friend without any explanation, and is especially uncomfortable if you have to see the person at work every day.

It sounds like there was a sudden and drastic change in your friendship that may or may not have anything to do with you. Even if she tends to get defensive, you have no choice but to ask her what is going on.

You could approach her when the two of you are alone (perhaps at the end of the work day) and say: I was wondering if you are okay or if I had done anything to upset you? If you think it would be more comfortable, you could ask her the same thing in a note. This would avoid putting your friend on the spot.

If she is unwilling to talk when you approach her, you will know that you have given it a try. Unfortunately, you won’t know if it is something that pertains to you or is something totally unrelated.

I don’t see any real bearing the age difference would have had and I was wondering why it occurred to you.

Hope this helps and I can certainly understand how you feel.

Best, Irene

Prior posts on The Friendship Blog about workplace friendships:

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Category: RESOLVING PROBLEMS, Workplace friendships

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  1. When a friend asks for space - The Friendship Blog : The Friendship Blog | September 20, 2013
  1. Lana says:

    CS7, I totally understand, and have also experienced the same kind of thing. If you are sure that you haven’t done anything “wrong” and they flake on you with no explanation, then what’s left to do? You can’t make them tell you what’s wrong if they don’t want to, no matter how tactfully you may ask. It makes you feel so powerless.

    Perhaps “dismissing” someone that way makes them feel they have power at a time when they feel they lack power in other parts of their lives that don’t even involve you. It’s not a good way to treat others, but it is human nature for some people.

  2. CS7 says:

    People who no longer want to talk to someone else should at least say something like, “I’m no longer comfortable with the friendship because…” and give one honest and helpful, but not hurtful reason. From this description, it’s so bizarre that the distant person would change so drastically.
    I see this question was sent in February. I hope the writer gives us an update soon; surely something new has happened since then.

  3. connie says:

    I am on the other side of the fence- I’m the one kinda avoiding a very close friend. Not that I plan to cut my ties with her, but yes, I have issues with her. The reason that I am choosing to keep mum about this is because I know that she has bigger problems to worry about smaller ones like this thing with our friendship, such as her husband’s womanizing and her boss calling her out for several incident reports about her behavior at work. She was flat-out suggested to go through Anger Management. I know she has a lot on her plate and I just can’t add more to it. However, it’s also eating me up so I am trying to distance myself from her for the time being to avoid a burst out or to avoid being overly irritated that I end up not talking to her FOREVER. I can sense that my friend notices this, and it irritates me that she’s giving a hint about it by joking “you’re abandoning me”. It doesn’t help when my issue is her being too clingy. I don’t know how your friend is, but I would suggest that you call/text/email her and tell her what you have been noticing. Maybe tell her that it seems like something’s bothering her and you’re worried about her. It feels like she’s avoiding you and that you’re hoping she can tell you what it is so that you can both resolve the conflict. Basically just like what the other commenters have said. However, I think it would be best to add this.. “if you are not ready to talk about it, I would understand, but please know that your friendship is important to me and I will always be available to listen to what you have to say at the time when you are able to talk about this.” Hope that helps.

  4. Kitty says:

    If you feel comfortable with asking her what happened, then go for it. But be prepared that in all probability she won’t tell you. The same thing happened to me. This was a coworker who I have been friends with for about 4 years, and suddenly, I got iced – she avoids me like the plague, no chit-chat, no emails, just curt short responses when I approach her. Like so many people on this website, I initially wracked my brain going over conversations to see if I could have said anything that would have offended her, been insensitive, etc., etc. I know that I don’t gossip and have never betrayed any of her confidences, and I try to give very little advice. She came to me MANY times for emotional support and encouragement. But in reflection, for most of these 3 years she has been in a extremely dysfunctional, rocky relationship with a man she is dating (I am married), and I couldn’t help but connect the dots that as soon as she told me her relationship took an amazing turn for the better(I was/am very happy for her, and expressed that to her enthusiasticly), she dropped me like a hot potato. In reflection, I realize that she was just a taker and took from me what she needed when she needed it. Now that she doesn’t need me, she is finished. I should have seen the signs, because during this time she did the same thing to two guys she used and then discarded without even the slightest hint of conscience.I kind of wondered about that, but…and now she basically did the same thing to me. So you live and you learn. The hard part is I still see her at work every day and to go from frequent, friendly conversations to nothing is very awkward and yes, hurtful. But although I think it is always a good thing to search yourself, many times it is about the person doing the dumping, their issues, and has nothing to do with you (the dumpee) 🙂

  5. CS7 says:

    Something similar happened to me over a year ago. For a few (or several?) weeks I’d been getting along very well with someone and the next day she wouldn’t talk to me. She barely acknowledged me in the same room. I initiated conversations a few times that day and only got calm but short replies. I think I only waited a few hours before asking her if something was wrong. She smiled and said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” One of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had and I realized there was nothing I could do. I gave her the chance to tell me, she refused, so that’s it. Just glad it wasn’t someone I cared more about.

  6. Grace Pamer says:

    I second Irene on this. You need to find out why she is being this way and if you have done something unwittingly to upset her or else it will continue to eat you up. It may be something totally unrelated to you which she is dealing with. Or she may have taken something you said the wrong way or heard an untrue bit of office gossip about you (this happened to a friend of mine once). Either way she at least owes you an explanation as it is very hard to be given such a clear cold shoulder out of the blue.

    Good luck and I hope you are able to resolve your problem.

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