Several months ago, I decided to invite a coworker to a personal social event where they met my friends, something I had never done before.

Subsequently, I began seeing them frequently outside of work. It feels as if this coworker has infiltrated my personal life by establishing connections with my friends, and now I encounter them quite often outside of work. I wish to re-establish a separation between my personal and professional life, but it appears to be more complex now.

I have direct professional dealings with this individual. Their disagreeable attitude often makes our interactions jarring. I would like to establish some professional boundaries to avoid being constantly engaged with them. However, they are quite assertive, often interrupting my work to initiate conversation. Furthermore, their outspoken nature makes me feel threatened if I do not meet their demands. As a result, interactions with them have started to feel coercive.

I love my work and I enjoy working with most of my colleagues. Assuming I don't want to switch teams or companies, how do I set this boundary?

  • What is your work relationship, e.g. are you on the same team? Do you need to work together to get work done? In what way do you feel threatened? What's the work environment like (open seating, factory, small offices)? And are you hoping to decrease your encounters outside of work? Or just have less interaction at work?
    – DaveG
    Oct 17, 2023 at 14:27

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: re-establish rules that separate professional and private life. Explain why it had to be, on a professional level, and the benefits for all of you. You let the two merge and you now need to split them again.

Roughly said: you let them in, they settled down, and now that they're well established, you want to kick them out. And keep good and professional relationship. That's the situation and the outcome you want. No way this will happen right now. Not in any conventionnal way I believe. What you could try, your best option (according to decades of workplace experience), would be to split and separate the two hemisphers and related relationships. Japan has a cultural thing for that. It's called bureikō (無礼講), and is part of nomikai (飲み会), a type of drinking party popular in most places of employment.

A point of etiquette which differs from Western business culture is that it is considered acceptable to become drunk at nomikai. In the same vein, things said and done under such circumstances are not taken seriously, but are forgiven or ignored upon return to the workplace. Consequently, there are sometimes frank and emotional displays between coworkers, regardless of rank, which may not occur in a normal workplace context.

Why do I bring all of this background first? Because what happens during nomikai doesn't belong to the workplace, and will never be brought in. Even if it happens, it never happened. And that's what you should try. Talk to that person, and explain that you'd prefer the professional relationship be completely separated from the "friendship". What happens in one setting doesn't belong to the other and should never interfere. What's done is done and can't be modified. As you can't save both sides, save the one that's most important to you at the moment: your job. Don't mention that it bothers you, just what you want to achieve and why, to the best of your mutual interest.

Now, it's up to you to find the proper time and words to explain yourself, but I'd just give that person the pros and cons about keeping the relationship strictly professional when at work, because it's better for everybody.

When it comes to set boundaries, if this colleague steps out of line, just make a firm and friendly reminder about the fence between professional and private matters.

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