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I have known Bob for some five years - followed a few courses together, then worked closely together on a few projects, and now we share an office but work on largely separate things. Because we are both working part-time at home or elsewhere as well, we only meet each other twice a week or so.

Over the last several months (perhaps a year or so) I feel Bob has become very self-centered. Lots of things happened in his life (think marriage, house, children), so I can kind of understand, but he has also become very self-centered in conversations about more trivial topics (think DIY, gardening, cooking). In principle I like to hear what he makes/grows/cooks, but don't expect to hear the details of all the different kinds of screws/potting soil/olive oil without asking for it. When I move the conversation to something we have in common, or bring up something of my own, he does not say anything relevant but instead starts talking about one of his topics, only tangentially related to what I said.

Because we don't live close, a lot of our communication naturally goes over WhatsApp. I get sent photos and links of all kinds of things, and my first though with most of these messages is: what made him think that I would be interested in this? I usually don't reply, get a new, unrelated message the next day, don't reply, etc., and on the third-or-so message I reply with something like "yes, nice" and a lame excuse that I'd been busy. Somehow this does not get the message across that I'm not interested.

In the past me and my partner have visited them and vice versa. It is now clearly our turn to host them (we visited them several times, they us only once or twice), and we have invited them in more and less explicit ways over the past year. The last reply to this was (in-person) that it was too complicated for them to come, but that we are always welcome. I found that quite rude, since it suggests that they would be more important to us than vice versa. Furthermore I know for a fact that they visited others in our area. So we don't invite them anymore.

At this point I've given up on this friend. But because we share an office, I cannot avoid him altogether. I want to continue to have lunch with my other colleagues and can bear him in this context, but would like our relationship to become more strictly professional. His continuous stream of text messages causes some distress, since they are at times provoking or plain incorrect about things I care about (anything from religion to the software we use).

I may have been sending some mixed signals (not replying to messages but still inviting them over), but only in situations where it felt utterly rude to disengage.

How can I more clearly communicate to this person I want our relationship to become more strictly professional?

(Context: we are well-educated western Europeans. There may be some form of asperger involved from both sides.)

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    Hi user110720! Your title talks about 'telling' this person: Is direct confrontation about this (saying out loud that you don't want to be friends anymore, or don't want to hear his stories) something you're willing to do, or are you more looking for ways to behave that are less direct? – Tinkeringbell Oct 9 at 14:44
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    Please don't cross post though :) It's discouraged, since we'd rather have you pick the community you feel is the best fit. If you really do want to migrate it, since there's an answer already, feel free to put up a custom flag for the mods. (cc @Daan) – Em C Oct 9 at 14:45
  • @Daan I originally intended to post this there but because it involves an old friendship the situation is a bit more complicated and I decided to ask here. But thanks for the suggestion! – user110720 Oct 9 at 15:24
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    Thanks @Tinkeringbell, I've clarified the title a bit. I'm not really a person for direct confrontation, but I'm open to any option at this point. After all, quietly withdrawing doesn't seem to be a strong enough hint. – user110720 Oct 9 at 15:27
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I think we've all had experiences with pushy almost-friends, especially work friends.

When I've been in this situation, I most often have the benefit of it being a limited engagement where my eventual departure will effectively solve the problem. But, there's been times when keeping a distance is very important.

I'm going to presume that you expect more than a single communication to resolve this issue because realistically, you'll have to draw this behavior down over time.

First, it's perfectly fine to make clear distinctions between work communications and personal ones so if your phone is a 'work phone' (even if you have to lie about that) there is no professional issue with asking him to stop sharing personal items there (you specify WhatsApp). Instead offer to follow him on Instagram, or some other app, where you can just mute him. I have stacks of work-friends on Facebook and LinkedIn because it make them very easy to politely ignore. Welcome to reality.

Hey Bob, I try to keep the phone for important work stuff only. What's your Insta? Let me follow you there.

Expect to gently remind him a few times. Remember, this is a process.

In the office, just always have something in mind that you "have to take care of." A report, a meeting, a brief, a drawing, whatever.

Oh, cute birdhouse. I gotta work on the Ansersen case, I hope the birds like it.

Seriously consider headphones. They are an easy physical barrier for a shared space. I've pretended to not hear someone just to delay the interaction.

"At this point I've given up on this friend."

Then the inviting over becomes pretty much irrelevant. Fortunately, since it's 'your turn' and he has not reciprocated, this will hopefully resolve itself.

You are seeking a more healthy relationship with Bob and the Interpersonal Skill will involve balancing some feelings on both sides. If a touch of rudeness is necessary to put that healthy distance between you, you will both be better off for it.

  • Thank you for your thoughts. In my case I use WhatsApp for friends and email for work, and this is the standard across the company, so the "WhatsApp is for important stuff only" won't work. Do you have an idea how I can suggest to him to move to email with that info? -- Headphones are a great idea, thanks. -- Yep, the inviting over problem has pretty much solved itself; should it come up ("hey, it's been a long time since we had dinner together") I can dodge that by being vague. – user110720 Oct 9 at 15:36
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    @user110720 Well, the important thing is to separate his work and personal content. This may be even better since you can use "corporate policy" to insist all work items go to email, then mute/block him on WhatsApp. I don't use WhatsApp so I don't know what options are available. "Mute" features mean the user doesn't know they're blocked. – Johns-305 Oct 9 at 16:09
  • Makes sense, thank you. (By "standard" I didn't mean there is a policy, but it's very easy to say "all others use email for work-related things, please also do this so that I have everything in the same place".) – user110720 Oct 9 at 20:34

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