• Other Friendship Advice

You can’t always count on workplace friendships

Published: March 15, 2014 | Last Updated: March 15, 2014 By | 10 Replies Continue Reading
Workplace friendships often require boundaries.



I have always had a hard time maintaining friendships. For many years I was uncomfortable in social situations, felt dumb, and had no confidence. Then I decided to go to college, realized I wasn’t dumb and graduated summa cum laude! I am passionate about my job as a special education teacher and am very good at what I do. I am confident in my work and my work ethic. However, I seem to still put people off.

I know part of it is that I am confident in my work and know the special education laws that go with my job. This threatens some of the other teachers. I try to share ideas, be a team player and be helpful to my co-workers. But, I am a perfectionist and when I shared something one too many times I was told I was rubbing it in their face (jokingly). I said I don’t mean it that way, just wanted to share. I have stopped sharing. People usually like me for the first month of knowing me then it seems that everyone withdraws from me and I even become the butt of jokes.

I have had to get on to one of my aides about not following legal procedures. She has been disrespectful to me and still won’t follow the legal paperwork. I told my boss I was having some difficulty getting her to comply. My boss gave me advice, which happened to be exactly what I had been doing. My aide has grown more disrespectful and has complained about me to our co-workers. They seemed to take her side more and more as time went on. She also complained to my boss and the lead teacher and all of a sudden I’m this super bad person that picked on my poor aide. I wasn’t hateful, rude or in any way negative. Just asked her to please follow procedure and explained why it was important to do so.

I was told by my boss not to get on to her again and that she tries hard. I have no friends at work and no one I can go to for advice. Honestly, her not following procedure could get our school sued. My boss has not asked to talk to me about “my” side of things and when I asked for a conference I have been put off or ignored.

I don’t understand what I am doing wrong? Someone please help?

Signed, Tanya


Hi Tanya,

It’s wonderful that you pursued your education and excelled. I’m sure this is a source of great pride and satisfaction for you. That said, the work world sometimes can be rough, filled with office politics that requires a great deal of social finesse. Depending on your position and the organization you work in, the workplace isn’t always a fertile place for finding friends.

It’s nice when someone is  “friendly” with a boss and/or subordinates at work but these are reporting relationships that require boundaries. While your post focuses on your friendship problems, I would separate this from the immediate problem you are dealing with at work.

You did the right thing to diplomatically point out some mistakes to your employee. Being a boss isn’t always popular but you are responsible for your subordinate’s work and need to protect yourself. Your boss undermined you by getting involved and telling you to let it go, especially with the risk of liability from not following standard procedures. I would try to communicate with your boss in writing as much as possible so you have a documentation trail. If you’re truly miserable in this position and have a boss who is generally unsupportive, start discreetly looking for something else.

Regarding making friends, it sounds like this isn’t something that comes naturally for you. A few ideas: Put yourself in situations where you’ll meeting like-minded individuals that share your interests. Your local Library may have a book club or other activities. Check their website. Take an exercise class and commit to coming at the same time on the same day regularly and you’ll start to meet others. You can also look on MeetUp.com and see what types of groups are available in your area. When you do make a connection at these activities with someone you’d like to get to know better, casually suggest something simple like going for coffee afterwards. Be casual and don’t act desperate, even if you feel that way.

Lastly, you may benefit from talking to a mental health professional. Having someone to talk to and get feedback about your work and social dilemmas may help you in your journey to become more confident, in and out of the workplace.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: Workplace friendships

Comments (10)

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  1. Sharon B says:

    I have had problems sort of like this at work. I have learned to try and mind my business and keep to myself. I do have a few people I consider to be my friend. I would love to find a new job after being there 20 years. None can be found unless I commute

    I do have our office moving soon to look forward to. I’ve given up on being totally happy or liking most of my coworkers.

  2. Islandgirl says:


    I wouldn’t be so quick to believe that Tanya is to blame for this situation. What others have proposed here is a possibility, but without actually being there, we can’t know for sure who’s really to blame. As I was reading her post, I was thinking about the list of characteristics victims of bullying often have. Such lists exist online at places like bullyonline.org

    These traits are things like being conscientious, being competent and having integrity. Tanya strikes me as someone who seems to have these desirable traits. People lacking these traits sometimes target those with them for bullying. I think that could just as easily be what’s going on here. Of course, that means Tanya isn’t to blame at all. It really does all depend on how she communicated her concerns to her aid.

    Unfortunately, once bullying takes hold and you are outnumbered, it seems the advice is to leave the job and find another. I don’t know how people can do that these days, since there aren’t very many jobs out there anymore. I’d definitely have another job lined up before breathing a hint of leaving to anyone, and since you need references for a new job, I have no idea how you go about doing that.

    Btw, I’ve seen other lists that blame the target of the bully and I think that they re-victimize the victim, which to me, doesn’t help at all. At any rate, this issue is well worth exploring for you Tanya, as learning about it will better equip you to deal with people now and in the future, because this group dynamic often comes up in life.

    One other thing that concerns me about the advice to just move on to another job is that you could easily end up jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

    Anyway, my sympathies. I know what it’s like to be bullied by whole groups of people you work with. It can cause PTSD, and I do think counseling can help with that as long as the therapist is experienced in dealing with abuse, bullies and boundaries, and doesn’t end up blaming the target herself. That’s the last thing you need. Otoh, if you do need to work on your communication skills, this could be a good learning experience for you.

    One more thing. Have you tried talking to your aid about this and really having a heart-to-heart about how you feel? You may want to let her know you’ve heard she’s upset about it and that you never intended to hurt her feelings. That could work. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you.

  3. jih says:

    I think I read this another way. She talks about herself as “confident” and a perfectionist. I suspect she is micromanaging people with a condescending, arrogant attitude. That it has reached her boss and he supports her assistant sounds like she is the problem in the workplace, not “everyone else” as she claims. I think that she is so proud that she is not dumb, she is overcompensating by trying to be right and perfect all the time. People make mistakes but it appears she has determined that it is a character flaw and deliberate insubordination.

    I have worked for people like her. If they don’t find a mistake initially, they will keep hunting until they can find one in order to prove their superiority and how “terrible” you are as an employee. It doesn’t matter how big or small the mistake is, a mistake is considered a deliberate act, not an error. NO ONE is perfect, not even her. That she can’t see the reason why people dislike her says a lot. Hounding people with her “ideas” is not friendly, it is pushy and is an example of how she will go to great lengths to get her way, regardless of the feelings of her coworkers. It appears she “shares” her “superior” ideas to “lesser” coworkers and cannot understand why they all don’t fall to her feet and thank her for her brilliance.

    She needs to get over herself or she will be without a job soon.

  4. shell says:

    Thank you for your advice and support. I am checking into therapy.

  5. Denise says:

    This is a really uncomfortable situation and I’d feel a little betrayed and definitely unsupported with the boss doing this, especially with the legal angle.

    I’m surprised he doesn’t care about this and wonder if he’s skipping, or has skipped, legal paperwork also. That could be a reason he wants to ignore it. And he won’t even give you the courtesy of a meeting. So, definitely communicate in writing saying “as we’ve talked about this before….” so if there are legal problems you will have something to protect you. Still, he could easily decide to stop responding to emails. I’m sure you’ve thought of going above him if you can and thought about leaving to avoid legal trouble. Maybe you could get feedback from other people doing the same job elsewhere. Is there a larger office that overseas smaller branches like yours you can talk to?

    It makes for an uncomfortable workday when co-workers are unsupportive, shut you out, and even make jokes about you. It’ll be challenging staying in a job with co-workers and the boss against you. I personally would start looking elsewhere.

  6. Did your boss tell you why he thought you should just let the aide’s mistakes go? If he honestly believes that her mistakes are not a problem, then you have a problem because you are sandwiched between two layers that don’t want to be part of your sandwich. Can you meet with your boss to review your aide’s performance, so you can see if he possibly has a good reason for not seeing her actions or inactions as being as big a problem as you do? Ask him what he sees as the possible fall out if she continues to do or not do what ever it is that your concerned about. If you continue to feel unsupported by your boss and concerned about your relationship with your colleagues, I think the advice to see a counselor might be warranted. A professional trained to be perceptive about human relationships might be of help to you. We spend so much of our time at work with co-workers that an uncomfortable or toxic environment

    • ….that an uncomfortable environment in the workplace can make one’s entire life miserable. You are wise to address this problem. Seeking counseling does not mean you are “wrong”, it means are accessing some independent, neutral help in analyzing the situation in which you find yourself.

  7. Amy F says:

    Sorry you’re having difficulty at work. I’m glad you recognize the issue and are taking responsibility to create change, rather than blaming others. That tells me you will be able to make positive changes.
    I second Irene’s advice about seeking mental health counseling. From your letter, I wonder if you fail to pick up on social cues that are more apparent to others, and if that might be part of your issue in developing and maintaining social relationships at work.
    Sometimes the social climate of a work environment is more relaxed than sticking 100% to a literal interpretation of laws and rules–meaning there is some wiggle room while still being ethical. You might be a one woman team trying to use more literal guidelines, which isn’t wrong, but might be against the environment.
    Try observing some of your coworkers and watch how they interact and handle conflict. When you’re not sure of a situation, think about what they would do.
    Good luck.

    • shell says:

      Thank you, I would really like to be able to have a good, collaborative work environment. I am checking into seeking counseling.

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