12

A little history:

I was hired onto this team a few years ago. The subteam I'm on has several people: the project lead (Jim), the co-worker I'm asking about (let's call her Mary), and others including me. We all report to the team lead (Tom), and most of the team works remotely, including Mary, though she commutes in to the office from time to time.

When I joined the company, they had no open offices in the area where most of the team works, so I was placed in another building. I told Tom I'd like to be moved to the team's office area, and a month later I got a notification from HR that on Monday at 4pm I was to move to a specific office in that wing. I checked, and it was Mary's office -- one of the nicest non-manager offices in that wing.

Assuming that she was simply moving to a different office (or perhaps that she had been told that she couldn't have the office anymore, since she telecommuted most of the time and offices were becoming scarce), I dutifully started moving my things at 4pm on Monday. Mary was still in the office, so I stacked my things outside the office door after a "hello" and a smile. I didn't ask or comment on the situation for fear of offending her, since the only communication I had received from anyone about this was from HR (and a quick email from Tom making sure I'd seen the email from HR).

Mary had always been friendly, so I was surprised and confused when she never smiled or greeted me again after that, not even when I said "hello". Work-related communications became stilted, and she never participated in any discussions I initiated. I mentioned this to Tom confidentially, as I was new on the team and wanted to solicit his advice. He said he'd "take care of it" but I never heard back from him and I didn't want to bring it up again.

Fast-forward:

Becoming increasingly frustrated, several months later I asked Mary if I could speak with her, and then asked why she doesn't speak with me. Her reply: "You are rude! I gave you my office because you needed it. You never said 'thank you'. You even put your things outside of my office before the end of the day." I tried to explain that I didn't know that and had been trying to avoid offending her, but she left in a huff.

Trying to make up for my offense, I left a gift bag in her inbox in the break area with some small, nice, appropriate gifts and a thank-you card. I never heard back. She still never speaks to me and avoids me as much as possible.

Question:

Is there anything I can do/say at this point to pursue an amicable, professional working relationship with Mary? I have no idea what she wants from me... At the minimum, I want to diffuse tension enough that we can discuss our work.


TL;DR:

Co-worker gave me her office, I didn't say anything since I didn't know it was given and didn't want to offend, she was offended that I didn't say "thank you" and now doesn't ever speak to me. As a result, professional collaboration suffers.


It might help to also say: I have Aspergers.

  • Was Mary relocated to somewhere ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than her old office? – Lawrence Feb 7 at 15:33
  • @Lawrence To somewhere 'worse'. But she only has to use it when she commutes in to the office. – Anon1142 Feb 7 at 17:40
6

The thing to remember here is: She is a coworker, nothing more.

You are not trying to reconcile a friendship. A little bit of hostility is all this is. Trying to meet her in person and talk to her regarding this might come off as pushy and might escalate unnecessarily. Stop trying to talk to her regarding this. Email her. Explain yourself in an email and if she still wants to give you the cold shoulder, that is that. She has a bad idea about you and unfortunately, there isn't much you can do regarding that.

Pointers for the said reconciliation email:

  1. Keep it professional. Don't try to sound like you'd like for her to be friends with you again, but make it sound like you wish she could work without getting passive aggressive when around you or when you are talking. Make her understand that her lack of contribution to your views is not an ideal situation because you value and respect her opinions and you hope to get better at what you do with the training from veterans such as herself.
  2. I strongly recommend CC'ing Tom in this email you send. This is because the hostility is between two of Tom's teammates. He needs to be made known that you did everything you can to bring the team dynamics back to normal. This will also persuade Tom to make Mary feel welcome and respected by you. Tom might be able to make Mary see that you are not a bad guy in the next meeting and that she can contribute and involve herself in this "professional" meeting you are in.
  3. Including Tom in your email to Mary will also ensure that you were not trying to force her to forgive you or harass Mary by emailing her about this. You are not trying to sneakily have Mary forgive you for something that you, for all intents and purposes, could have done intentionally. Mary could easily play this as you intentionally ignoring her nice gesture and acting entitled to the nice office.
  4. Since Tom is in the email chain, Mary MIGHT reply. She MIGHT contribute during team meetings when you say something. She might still not like you, but that is OK. The team needs to work first, the friendship can come later if it needs to.
  5. Explain, in your email, how you've already tried explaining yourself to her and how you left a gift basket at her desk. Remind her that you are and always have been genuinely thankful for her gesture.
  6. The email is about you being apologetic rather than thankful. Being thankful after being told you weren't thankful comes off as fake. You are trying to explain why you behaved the way you did. Take the blame, but don't say you were not thankful. Take the blame for not SHOWING your appreciation rather than not being appreciative.
  7. Definitely explain how you did not know that she OFFERED the office to you rather than it being taken away from her and given to you by the management. Tell her you were worried about plucking a nerve by thanking her and that you did not want to offend her.
  8. DO NOT expect a reply from her. Do not send an open-ended email. Send a closed complete email that someone could just read and ignore. End the email with something along the lines of "I really hope we could work together as a team and put aside our differences and I really hope you accept my sincere apology for not expressing my gratitude to your gracious gesture". The reason for this is, you are not giving her an ultimatum. This is, according to you, the last time you attempt to fix this misunderstanding. You are leaving the ball in her court and you've basically distanced yourself from the hostility to a point of indifference. Now, a poorly held team meetings is on her, not you. How efficient the team works is on her, not you.

Beyond this, there is really nothing you can do. You send that email and if someone asks you about the feud between you and Mary, you can say that you tried but she is just not willing to forgive you for your shortcomings with regards to this incident.

I hope this helps.

2

There is, I am afraid, no easy fix for this. This is a person we all encounter in the workplace who is hard to read and will take significant work to re-connect with.

In my experience, getting someone with this type of personality to warm up after an event like this may be impossible, but it is not impossible to get your job done. That is the key to remember when something like this happens at work. Friendliness is nice, and preferred at work, but it is not necessary and not everyone believes that coworkers should be friendly - just professional.

Here is a suggestion: Start slowly engaging with her in group settings. Perhaps a lunch with Tom or another person, until you see she is willing to be in the same place you are and interact. Then, after a few times in a group, perhaps tell her you would like to know her better and ask her to lunch by yourselves, or if she wants coffee, or whatever - on campus or get it delivered if available so it can be quick, not drawn out and awkward in the car. Then, just go from there. She knows you are sorry, I see no point in bringing it up over and over, but showing her you're a nice, caring person - which you seem to be - may get her to warm to you a little.

If you get nowhere with trying to simply show you're interested in pleasantries and politeness, you may need to just let it go. You have apologized, said thank you, and gone out of your way to explain. If she does not respond to additional opportunities to make it right, but you're still able to get work done, it is okay to leave it alone and proceed with your job.

I also struggle when someone at work is cold or does not like me. I find it best to try and find one common thread in a person that I can relate to and build rapport on, because it just makes it better from 9 to 5. However, not everyone feels that way, and that is also OK. You sound sincere and have done what you can to this point, that may be all there is. It is easy to say "try not to let it bother you" and difficult to practice, but if you can take that frame of mind yourself, it might make working with her easier.

Now, if you're not able to complete your job because of this, HR mediation would be a consideration. Hopefully she will see, though, that you are trying to make things better and will warm up a bit.

Good luck!

1

As a chronic suffer from limited space, I feel your pain. I've also seen similar situations many times in the past.

Based on your, let's agree, one-sided description, you did nothing wrong. HR says "sit there", you sit where they tell you. BTW, I have no reason to doubt you; as noted, this happens frequently. HR is typically not known for their good Interpersonal Skills.

Based on the times I have seen exactly this, the Interpersonal Skill here is Professionalism. You can engage with Mary based on job actions and requirements only.

If her actions, or lack thereof, create problems for the team or company, such as not responding timely to emails and such, then this is a management issue and you should inform Tom of her job related performance without mentioning her attitude.

Please be aware that you might not be able to repair this relationship to the point you want. You can still try by simply being nice and cordial, but in practice Mary has the problem and only she can change that.

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