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Shifting workplace alliances

Published: May 19, 2014 | Last Updated: May 19, 2014 By | 5 Replies Continue Reading
When workplace alliances change or disappoint, it’s important to maintain your focus on work.


Dear Friendship Doctor,

I have a friend, lets call her Ana, who I met through a mutual best friend 3 years ago, let’s call her Sally. The three of us started working at the same office around the same time through a common link.

Ana and I started drifting from Sally because we noticed changes in her that we didn’t like such as conceitedness and a general rivalry where she felt as though she had to be the alpha-female in any friendship.

Ana and I became really close as we realized our mutual disappointment in Sally’s behaviour and change in personality. We helped each other through a lot of tough situations, such as painful breakups and family matters, and found many similarities in our personalities like us both being pretty cynical and pessimistic.

In the past few months I have completely changed my outlook on life and have become a more positive and optimistic person after the emotional ditch I had dug myself into in the past few years. I got accepted into law school, have lost a significant amount of weight, and just feel like a lighter and happier person.

I have noticed Ana slowly phasing me out over the past few months, when if anything I have become a more open and supportive person and feel as though I have been a better friend to her. It was gradual at first, where I thought it was just her being in a bad mood (which is often), but eventually the girl who once couldn’t shut up when I was around barely speaks a word to me now.

She started becoming really close with Sally again and they make it a point to make plans in front of me at work and talk only to each other when I am clearly an earshot away. I understand that they have been friends for longer and they will want to hang out alone, but given the bond I had with Ana I expected better from her. I have tried on several occasions to make plans with Ana but she says she’s always busy, when I know her well enough to know this isn’t the case at all, and she has been spending a lot of time with Sally who is a lost cause in my eyes.

I’ve tried addressing it when I felt the tension rising, but Ana convinced me that it was her mood, when I’ve noticed it’s only me she’s been giving the cold shoulder to. I still value what we had not too long ago and feel like we can turn it around, or is it obvious that I should let her go? There’s a part of me that feels as though she can’t handle that I’m not her cynical counterpart anymore and that I’ve grown to become happy for the first time in my life. What
should I do? She sits less than two feet away from me at work and I don’t want to create a hostile work environment. I’d really appreciate any advice.

Signed, Marcie


Hi Marcie,

It’s not uncommon for alliances among groups of friends to shift as they did when you and Ana became tight. Now, it sounds like Ana has moved closer to Sally.

As you suggest, Ana may have preferred being with you when you could both commiserate about problems; now she feels more comfortable doing that with Sally. Since Sally has a take-charge personality, she may have played a role in Ana’s alienation. If Ana is unwilling to discuss this with you, there is little that you can do to change this situation or turn it around.

What really troubles me (and probably you, too), however, is that Ana tactlessly makes plans with Sally in your presence, plans that exclude you. Whether or not she is aware of what she is doing, this is pretty hurtful behavior that has to be disappointing.

Since this drama is playing out in your workplace and these two “friends” are co-workers, you need to do whatever you can to de-escalate the tension. My advice would be to remain cordial and friendly but to minimize your contact with these women outside work-related matters. For the time being, try to nurture your friendships outside work.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: Workplace friendships

Comments (5)

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  1. Denise says:

    I agree with other comments about her being jealous maybe of your big changes and achievements plus maybe other unknown reasons. For me,the three facts that bother me most are
    1)that she won’t explain why she’s ignoring and avoiding you
    2)that she and Sally make plans while you can hear them and
    3)you have to work closely with them (or just the desk being close)

    Making plans where you can hear and be excluded is juvenile, to me, and really seems intentional. Be as cordial and professional as possible and try your best to let it slide off your shoulders. I’d even leave the area, if possible, when they start this so as not to listen to the whole thing. This has worked for me in similar situations. I feel less stressed if I don’t hear things. I’d also realize I don’t want to be friends with people who turn on me without explanation.

  2. Laura says:

    Remember: misery loves company, for better or for worse. It hurts when alliances change, but you’ve also entered a new chapter in your life that’s become more positive. Move forward with that positive outlook now, and as you transition into law school. People will always come & go in our lives; we should always value what they teach us because there’s always something to be learned from others. We can ultimately only control ourselves and our own destiny in life. Change always hurts, but that’s how we grow. Good luck with your future-may you have continued happiness and success in life, and you will if you can rise above and treat people with respect regardless of their behaviour.

  3. tanja says:

    The fact that Anna excludes you is hurtful. Perhaps, Anna is not in a happy situation and there may be some jealousy, so she wants you to feel bad because she does and this is the reason for her exclusion. The saying misery loves company is very true.

    I used to work at the home depot and had a friend named Penny. She is 10 yrs older than I am, yet we clicked in the beginning. She was a single parent at the time and I was an unhappy person looking for love and feeling lonely and my confidence was down. She probably noticed these qualities in me and picked up the energy I was giving off and thought we could be friends. We called each other, I called her and she was there for me when I would speak of loneliness etc. Long story short, when I found a boyfriend (now my husband). I felt happier, my work performance improved and I got a car and I felt happy and positive (not because of my boyfriend) but in general, my university was coming to an end with good grades, the weather was changing from winter to spring (this made a lot of difference in my mood change as well). In any case, around that time, she started to bring chicken dinners in for everyone on different days for their lunch, except for me. She started to exclude me. I had another friend ask her what was going on and she came back and reported that Penny was just jealous, no one could see any real reason for it.

    So, there was not much I could do but let it happen. I ended up leaving home depot and getting pregnant and married. Once my son was born, I came in to the home depot to say hi to people. She avoided me and went to the back. I had someone call her from the back to let her know I wanted to see her. She came out and was very nice, dotted on my baby etc, very pleasant. after that, I tried to add her on facebook and she did not accept. But, it was fine, it does not hurt me anymore. It never did. I understand that she had a lot of problems. She was also a Jamaican woman, whose boyfriend had left her when she got pregnant at the age of 29, when she wanted marriage and to be a family and he left her. She moved from London, England to Canada and her daughter did not really know who her father was and they lived is subsidized housing and she had very little family support to help her. Life was tough for her. I also grew up poor, but I have to admit life changed when I met my husband, my kids have it sooo much better than I and I am thankful for that. So, with everything going on, I understand her and I feel sorry for her. I sometimes still miss her and think we could have had a great friendship, but there was our life circumstances, culture, age and life differences that prevented this.

    I think if you think in terms of trying to understand them, it will help to move on and continue to be optimistic and moving forward for better things to come. Everything in life is fleeting, especially relationships, so enjoy it while you have it and once it is done, look back with fondness.

    Since you have to see them still at work, I would just be friendly as you see them and continue on because there is not much you can do.

  4. Amy F says:

    If you’re leaving your job to pursue your education, the shifting in alliances between your work friends/colleagues may be a moot point, to borrow a legal term.
    Work relationships can be so tricky, in part because of competition, and also because these are friendships of convenience (seeing someone 8 hrs a day, five days a week) and not always based on mutual interest or regard. In the relationship dynamics in this situation, you’re the person who has changed, not Ana. Sometimes when one person makes a dramatic change or the individuals grow in different directions, the friendship doesn’t survive. I cringe to hear the words “lost cause” to describe even a former friend, because it sounds a bit like the conceitedness that you accused Sally of possessing. I bet that Sally felt just as left out when you and Ana left her behind as you feel right now. Ana might see her as a more permanent future relationship, as you’re pursuing other interests.
    Concentrate on being around people who make you feel positive and empowered. Be friendly and cordial to Ana, Sally and all of your colleagues while looking toward those who will be part of your new life, as a law school student for social interactions outside of work.
    Congratulations and good luck in law school.

  5. Cyndi says:

    It seems to me that the shift may be because she is seeing something in you that at this point she is unable to achieve. You mentioned that you have been accepted into Law school and have lost a considerable amount of weight. Success changes people, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst and it seems that for you the changes you are about to embark on have been for the better, misery loves company and when you were at your lowest, Ana was there to pick up the pieces, she was facing similar circumstances in her life and may be still facing those circumstances, you are moving forward in your life and career. The main focus now needs to be on Law school and your continued success. Good Luck and congratulations.

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