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I seem to be having some interpersonal problems with a female co-worker in my workplace. To put it into context, I'm a middle-aged male and she is a fair bit younger (early 20s).

I first met her at a workplace event a couple of years ago, soon after things started to open up post-Covid. We were introduced and had a brief chat - she seemed quite friendly and we seemed to get on fairly well. She is not a member of my close team and not someone I see very frequently. I typically pass her in the corridor or bump into her in the coffee room perhaps once or twice a week.

The problem is that, in the weeks after we met, everyone was wearing masks and it seems (I suspect) I may not have recognized/acknowledged her on passing her in the corridor several times. She seems to have taken some offense at that and interpreted it as me being rude. (I'd like to point out though that on those occasions, if she recognized me, then she didn't say "Hi" to me or acknowledge me either)

The reason I believe she is offended is that I bumped into her in the tea room about a month-and-a-half after we met (we hadn't had any verbal interaction since then). I asked her how she was and tried to start up a conversation, but she quite clearly gave me a 'cold shoulder' and walked off. Since then, things seem a bit awkward if I bump into her. I have tried to be polite, say "Hi, how are you?" when I see her, but it's been almost 2 years now since we met, and I'm not seeing any sign of her thawing out towards me.

So, I would like some advice on how I can resolve this, as I'm not sure what I have done wrong and I don't really like the sense of 'friction' that there seems to be. She isn't someone that (right now) I need to interact with frequently, although it is possible that I might need to work with her more closely in future. Really, I would just like to have a healthy, positive working relationship with her, but I'm not sure how to approach this, if she seems to be holding a grudge. I don't think confronting her about it, asking her "what's the problem?" would be a good idea, as I don't want to do something that might make her feel more uncomfortable.

In particular, given this apparent issue, what would be an appropriate way to behave when I pass her in the corridor to get her to thaw out a bit?

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  • Have you observed her acting differently (more warmly) towards other co-workers at events/in the hallway, ones that she does not currently work closely with (and hasn't in the past)? Do you see her acting similarly to other co-workers?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 19:28
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    @Tinkeringbell no. It's rare, if ever, that I observe her interacting with other people. I don't really see her around often enough. One other thing though - there is another girl (girl B) she is friends with, who also seems to be quite prickly towards me, despite me having barely interacted with her at all. All I can think of is that girl B has formed a negative impression of me from talking with girl A. So, I am pretty sure girl A is holding some sort of grudge against me specifically.
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 19:56
  • Possibly related Workplace Q&A: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/88376/… Treating it as a workplace issue simplifies the issue in my opinion. Consider also that what you consider as customary or polite greetings depend on region, culture, social background, etc.
    – Brandin
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 10:20

3 Answers 3

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In my experience, these things are far less about you than you tend to think. You think that she should like you, and that if she isn't being warm to you, it's perhaps because you didn't greet her in the halls. You rightly point out she didn't greet you in the halls, but instead of using this observation to reject your hypothesis, it seems you're using it to be angry at her for inconsistency.

There are many reasons why she appears cold to you. She may have no idea who you are. She may remember you and just not like you for something you said when you met. Someone else may have told her something you said or did. She may have a lot on her mind and not have time for chit chat with people from other departments or non-work matters. Her department/team may, as a group, feel some sort of grudge or resentment towards your department/team. You may have got a promotion or benefit that she thinks someone else deserves more. Who knows?

If you think it's important that this person feels warmly towards you, the only thing that has ever worked for me is consistently being warm towards them. If you are a nice person, and behave nicely to everyone, people eventually warm up to you. Perhaps enough to tell you about something you did wrong years earlier, or perhaps enough to put it in the past. In the meantime, stop fussing about whether a random coworker likes you or not.

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    Thanks for your answer, but I think you have misinterpreted what I've said. The issue is not that 'I think she should like me' or that 'she didn't greet me in the halls'. There have been encounters (e.g. in the coffee room) where she has been unmistakeably rude to me, which gives me the impression I have done something to offend her.
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 13:21
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    I do not 'feel angry towards her' or think that 'she should feel warmly towards me'. I don't have any resentment or ill-feeling towards her at all - I am just confused by her apparently rude behavior. She works for a different team that we sometimes need to work with. All I would like to do, if possible, is somehow 'normalize' things, so that we can have a healthy working relationship going forwards.
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 13:24
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    Also, I don't think you fully addressed my question of how I should behave towards her, if/when I bump into her in the corridor/tea room.
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 13:41
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    Be warm. Be friendly. Do the things you want coworkers todo, whether that's ask how your weekend was, comment on the weather, or refer to some shared thing like a big year-end deadline coming up or a recent work event. Just be nice. You may never know why she was cold to you. There may not be a reason. She may not consider herself cold or rude to you, which would make it impossible for her to explain. Just be warm and friendly in and of yourself. Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 14:30
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    I appreciate your input. I will try to make an effort to do that, although I don't think it will come naturally to be friendly towards someone that has come across as cold and unfriendly towards me.
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 16:59
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It could be she's trying to fend off any potential advances

I'm not a woman, but I've got four sisters and have heard plenty of horror stories from them about having to extract themselves from awkward situations with older men at work.

Continued attempts to talk to her may only reinforce this. It may not be something you, specifically, have done but a general company culture you may be unaware of because, not being a young woman, you haven't experienced the men of a certain age trying to corner you in the coffee room. Her frostiness sounds more like a defence mechanism.

I recommend you let her be. Yes perhaps your motives are more pure, but she doesn't owe you any particular conversation that isn't work related. Also ask yourself if you'd be so dedicated to pursue a young man acting in the same way, would you be trying to get him to "thaw"?

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  • Thanks for your response. I'm not saying you're wrong, but it would seem rather extreme to me, for younger women to behave in an unfriendly way towards older men, to pre-emptively stave off potential (i.e. imaginary) advances, if the men in question haven't displayed any such actions. Although, it's quite possible it may be a factor. Yes, most likely I would be similarly concerned if a young man was acting in a similarly unfriendly manner towards me (although, in that case I might be better able to relate to them, being male myself).
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 14:59
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    I think what I will do if I bump into her is simply say "Hi, good morning/afternoon" (which I would do to anyone). If she ignores me, then I will leave it at that.
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 15:00
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Mid 20s cis woman here so I can try to put it into her perspective. Most of the time I stick to talking to people I spend time with regularly, and have things in common with. You mentioned that she doesn't typically interact with other people other than her friend, so I wouldn't feel bad about her not continuing to be chatty with you.

The age gap is large so there is not a lot of shared life experience, and I suspect from the lack of other activities mentioned you don't really have anything in common with her aside from working at the same company. There are plenty of people that work at the same company as me, I see them once in a while, maybe speak to them at a workplace event if there is not somebody I know better, but I would be unlikely to talk to them and they would afford me the same space too.

Passing someone in a corridor isn't a time when I would expect somebody to want to talk to me if I wasn't their friend, unless they wanted something from me. Most likely I would be trying to get somewhere, not wanting to stop for a chat. I don't think you have been rude to her in this scenario in any way, and likewise she has not been rude to you.

I am not going to be able to explain the cold shoulder event, she was potentially being rude in this scenario, but that was almost 2 years ago also so I wouldn't think too hard about it, it could have been anything from a bad day to just not wanting to chat that day. She might not have realised that you talk to everyone in the same way and felt uncomfortable. Maybe it's just a simple misunderstanding like she had airpods in and you didn't notice. I think not wanting to say hi to her after that is understandable but, I would just treat her the same as you treat other colleagues that you don't work with, so that you don't feel like you are excluding her. I find it can be easier to converse with someone I am not close to by talking about something I observe, and we can both observe together, such as the weather, or tea, rather than talking about myself or asking questions about another person, so possibly this will be helpful to know. Maybe she will respond or maybe she doesn't want to have a conversation and that's okay too.

I think the best thing to do if you do happen to get into a situation where you will be working with her, is to re-introduce yourself a little bit for your role, and tell her that you're looking forward to working with her, but probably don't push it any further by trying to become too friendly or ask personal questions, just be helpful if she asks for anything. Allow her to lead on any friendship that she might want to initiate - and realistically, she probably won't want to be buds. However if you find something you have in common, definitely pursue that conversation, since it will be easier for both of you to feel comfortable in this conversation.

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