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I have a coworker I've become very close friends with over the past year. This friendship extends beyond just the workplace, and we are involved in each others lives outside of work. However, we sit next to each other, which makes it difficult to avoid conflicts when they arise.

Over the past couple of months, she and I have both had hardships in our personal lives that have affected how we communicate with each other. Recently, we had the following interaction:

Her: (venting about an upsetting social interaction with a friend)

Me: That sucks. All you can really do is focus on what you can control, and try not to let this person get to you as much.

Her (angrily): I'm just trying to vent to you. I'm not "letting it get to me!"

Me: I'm sorry. You've just been talking about it a lot, so it seems like it's something that is definitely weighing on you.

Her: Well, it's not! I guess I just can't talk to you about this.

Because I felt upset with her response to what I had intended to be a supportive comment, I told her I wanted space to gather my feelings and thoughts alone before we addressed why our interaction had gone sour.

She did not feel the same way. I went back to my desk and began working, to which she sent me texts calling me immature and uncaring for not wanting to resolve our miscommunication issue right then and there. I could also see her watching me to see if I was ignoring her texts, since my phone sits on my desk. This ended up making me even more upset, because it felt like I was being bullied into a talk I wasn't prepared for.

Although this eventually got resolved and I explained to her why I did not yet want to communicate, I feel like she did not truly understand why I needed space before addressing our miscommunication and that this is likely to happen again.

If / When this does happen again, what is the best way I can iterate to her that my request for space is something I have a necessity for when addressing highly emotional situations while minimizing the chance that she will take it offensively?

Edit for clarity:

I am aware of why she was hurt, and how I could have better handled my end of the communication. What I'm mostly concerned for is how I can address the need for me to excuse myself from confrontations until I have had time to calm down, think about why both parties are upset, and figure out what I'd like to do to make it right.

When I am forced to address a confrontation while still emotionally upset (in this case, I didn't understand yet why she was angry with me), I feel like I don't actually get to express my emotions because I haven't had time to reflect on them. This often leaves the other party feeling as though they've "said their piece", but leaves me finding the words to express my emotions hours later after I've had time to reflect on the situation.

What I would like is advice on how to politely tell someone that I need time to myself before addressing an argument, without escalating the problem even further.

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    I don't know if this is allowed per se, but you mention in your edit that you realise why she got hurt. Could you explain? Because I actually don't get why she was hurt by you trying to give a bit of advice. Annoyed, I get. Hurt? not really... – Hermien Scholten Feb 14 '18 at 10:56
  • @HermienScholten "Hurt" is probably the wrong word -- "frustrated" is probably better. It's the same frustration you'd feel at unasked-for, unwanted advice. Imagine, for example, that you're a cashier. How would you feel if some stranger who, as far as you know, has never worked in retail, just started... telling you how to scan barcodes? You wouldn't be hurt, but you'd be frustrated, because you didn't ask, and it might even feel demeaning that they assume you don't know (even if you actually don't) – Nic Hartley Mar 8 '18 at 23:52
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The best way to head this off is to ask your friend if she wants advice or if she's just venting. Do this right when she starts.

If she says she just wants to vent, then listen and say nothing.

If this begins to put a strain on you, simply say.

You know I care and am your friend and I do want to help and listen. Right now, I'm too stressed with what I am going through with 'abc', I need to step back and calm down over that before I can be the friend to you that I want to be.

From that point, it's up to your friend to respect you or not, but that is all that you can do.


If it gets past that point and escalates to the point where you cannot address the escalation, try.

I am so so sorry, but I am so shaken up right now that I need to take a step back. I care very much about you, but I just can't form the words right now.

Or, something of that nature. I understand completely, I suffer from selective mutism when I get upset. I literally cannot form the words or speak at all until I calm down. I've actually had to text people to let them know.

  • This addresses an excellent point - that maybe I wasn't emotionally ready to be listening to her problems with full patience in the first place, seeing as we were both in emotionally tight places. However, I'm mostly trying to address the way in which the situation escalated when I asked if I could have time to myself before we talking about why we were upset with each other. I've updated my post to hopefully clarify further. – Jess K. Nov 16 '17 at 19:56
  • @JessK. I updated my answer, please let me know if it helps or if I should go into more detail. – The Wraith Nov 16 '17 at 20:21
  • Thanks, that does help more accurately address the feelings I'm trying to express. In the moment, all I could think was 'Just leave me alone for a few minutes and we can talk after', but obviously that doesn't give an air of patience and sincerity - but instead just annoyance. – Jess K. Nov 16 '17 at 22:09

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