• Other Friendship Advice

My Supervisor is Pulling Back From Our Friendship

Published: November 27, 2016 | Last Updated: March 18, 2024 By | 9 Replies Continue Reading
A readers asks: What do you do when a supervisor is pulling back from a friendship and turns chilly?

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

Over the past few years I have become friendly at work with my boss and now my supervisor is pulling back.

We have a small team and we work in different offices in different states. We often connect via conferencing or telephone, or whenever either of us travels for work.

When we are in the same office, we often organize dinners to catch up. We talk and share personal things going on in our lives. We’re pretty open and honest with each other, even with work-related situations.

I feel like I can genuinely talk to my boss. I have a huge amount of respect for my boss and enjoy the friendship that has evolved.

Recently I returned from leave and started on a new project. My boss is working on different projects than me at a different level of responsibility. I still report directly to my boss.

I have noticed recently that emails I send go silent and our work meetings are not as connected. My friendly texts (not sent too often) outside of work go unanswered.

I am an engaged team player who often volunteers to take on extra work to help my boss and the team. I am struggling with the lack of communication and efforts from my boss to connect with me. I feel the effort in connecting always comes from my side. This disappoints me. I don’t want to feel this way.

I don’t need my boss’s friendship. I have a lot of friendships outside of work. Why do I care? Can I be lonely at work? Is this a work validation issue? I want to concentrate on work. Am I not busy enough?

Perhaps there are valid reasons why my boss doesn’t respond. My boss has a family and I appreciate the busyness of parenting. Friendships are a two-way street though. I’m sick of making all the effort.

Do I pursue this “new” friendship and accept that it’s as good as it’s going to be, or pull back and self-preserve and focus just on work. How does one disconnect from a colleague but still be a team player?

Signed,

Flo

ANSWER

Hi Flo,

Friendships at work can get complicated–and co-workers who become friends often have misgivings about the relationships they’ve forged.

Since you report to your boss, your boss may have felt as if the friendship interfered with his/her ability to supervise you.

Or since your team is a small one, other members of the team may have gotten jealous or uncomfortable with your special relationship and access.

You haven’t mentioned whether there might have been any romantic attraction between you, which might be another factor that caused the boss to back off.

Whatever the reason(s) for it, I can understand how you would feel hurt, confused and disappointed by the sudden change in your relationship after you returned from leave.

Perhaps, you can speak to your boss privately and tell him/her that you sense his/her pulling back and you want to make sure that your friendship doesn’t compromise your work relationship.

Try to identify what the boss’ boundaries are and then respect them. Your boss may volunteer some more information.

Remember that your employment needs to trump friendship and there are other places to look for friends.

In terms of work, you still need to be a team player.

I don’t know if your organization is large enough to allow you to transfer to another supervisor but this would be another way of making the situation more comfortable for you.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene


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Comments (9)

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  1. Rikki says:

    I have run into this situation myself. My boss and I agreed we would be great friends if she were not my boss but we still had a friendship. We talked about things more than work related and text outside of work. Recently it has seemed she has pulled back which is ok, I am just unsure what caused it. I decided to just not water the flowers and see what happens. I am 53 so I have been here before and know how these things turn out. So I am still friendly and still will give a comment or two about my dog, but much more within work boundaries. At first I would still text her outside of work but have noticed her responses are now just emojis. She definitely isn’t as open to me the way she was. I still like her and can get along find with her so I decided to not talk to her about it. Actions often speak louder than words. I have just followed her lead, act with her the same way I would any co-worker or supervisor and move on. I don’t want the discomfort or drama so for me, if she is feeling uncomfortable being friends with a member of her team, then I will respect that . I feel you should do the same but ultimately it’s your decision. I think your concerned because you don’t have a reason or. Any
    Idea why and that is hard, BUT it’s work and sometimes we
    Just don’t get those answers. It’s taken me a few texts and a few odd responses to things that I have talked to her about but I am untimately fine with it now. You will get used to just being casual boss/employee again. You just never know why things change like they do but you just have to accept it for what it is and keep doing a great job.

  2. LauraSL says:

    I would follow Irene’s advice and speak to your boss privately to clear the air. In my opinion, being direct is best.

    My boss and I really clicked from day 1 and have a great working relationship. We go to lunch on a regular basis. We have both acknowledged that we could be great friends if it wasn’t for the reporting relationship. She wanted to add me on Facebook and I told her it’s my policy that I don’t add my colleagues at my current job, which is what I’ve told a few other people that wanted to be FB friends. I’ve had to work from my end to keep boundaries, even though she’s fabulous and otherwise I’d love to be more friendly. The bottom line is I *need* my job and avoid potential stress and drama.

    • Sandra says:

      Laura, you’re very wise. Sounds like you’ve got a great working relationship with your boss — and are very professional. I’ve had some “issues” with Facebook and colleagues/co-workers in the past. So you are very, very wise to honor those boundaries. Thanks for sharing this good advice, great reminders.

      • LauraSL says:

        I put off a couple people not adding them on FB (not my boss, she understood). However, when I go on FB it’s for fun, and I don’t want to censor what I feel like posting or remember to exclude certain people from posts.

  3. Mary says:

    Flo doesn’t mention why she was on leave. Technically/legally, it shouldnt matter. In the real world however it might.

    Gender of boss? Not mentioned. Would definitely matter.

    Wouldn’t surprise me if higher ups instructed boss to cool the relationship. For this reason I would not approach boss at all. They msy br following orders.

    I know it’s hard, but that is the price of a close personal relationship with a manager. If/when Flo transfers to a different manager/department then the friendship might be salvaged, but not before then.

  4. Amy F says:

    Work friendships can be tricky, especially with one’s boss. As the underling, you’ve got to be especially careful to respect your supervisor’s position, boundaries and authority. She’s sending you messages with her less than welcoming responses or lack of responses that she doesn’t have the time/energy/desire to pursue a friendship at this time. Respect that as you would any friend and work especially hard to keep your personal feelings out of your work relationship.

    I’ve had work friendships with both supervisors, subordinates and coworkers with the unspoken boundary always being the worst must come first. The boundary was always present and the friendships felt different than outside work friendships because of the career priorities for all of us. No drama. Period. If you decide to gave a conversation, make it supportive, if you feel that way. “I notice you haven’t been as chatty lately. I hope you’re just busy any that everything us okay. I’m here if you need to talk.”

    In your situation, I would be cordially friendly in work, and nix the outside of work texts and interactions with the exception of things like holiday cards, if you usually send them, or if you’re having a holiday party and inviting coworkers, include her as a courtesy.

  5. Sandra says:

    I agree with Dr. Irene. Friendships at work, or any type of professional relationship, is always going to be more complicated than a social friendship. Whenever someone has the upper hand, as a mentor or a boss, that friendship is always unbalanced. That boss/mentor has control over your work, your paycheck, and your career.

    For that reason, I think it’s safer to avoid getting too personal with bosses and professional mentors. Keep good boundaries around your personal life.

    I can’t tell from your letter if your boss is of the opposite sex, or if that impacts this situation. Either way, you can’t go wrong if you keep things professional. You mentioned that you have a lot of good friendships outside work, which is ideal. If you stay on friendly but professional terms with your boss and coworkers, and put your best effort into your job, loneliness at work shouldn’t be an issue.

  6. Irene (the other one) :) says:

    As a first step, you could approach her, asking if she actually got the emails or texts that you sent, saying it is unusual not to hear from her, and therefore you reckon there may be a problem with her server, PC, telephone line etc. If she doesn’t respond to this, then obviously there may be some other reason.

    A friend of mine had that problem with a relative – it turned out the relative had been ill in mental hospital, and those whom she knew before had been erased from her mind.

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