my coworker suddenly dislikes me

A reader writes:

I have been working at my current company for a little more than a year. One of my coworkers, Zoe, was really nice to me and friendly in general, but the last month or so, she feels a little cold and honestly like she just does not want to talk to me at all.

I started right before the pandemic. At first we all worked from home for a bit, but some of us started going to back to the office quite early since they took a lot of safety measures (moved our seats to be socially distant, required people to wear masks around others, etc.). My seat was moved to the row behind Zoe’s.

When I started, she was pretty nice and she would come over and talk to me. Once in a while, I would go over and talk to her. But this last month, my interactions with her have felt different. She stopped saying good morning to me when she comes in and goodbye when she leaves, something she had always done in the past. Sometimes I’ll see her in the kitchen and we’ll make conversation on the way back to our desks and she’s polite, but it feels like she’d rather not be talking to me, almost as if she’s uncomfortable. And now, if we’re in a casual group conversation with some of our other colleagues, she seems a lot more relaxed with everyone else but if I say something her tone and expression noticeably change. She’s fine in a professional capacity. It just seems like she would prefer not to interact with me outside of work-related exchanges.

I’ve been trying to rack my brain to figure out if I did something or if I changed somehow, and it’s causing me a lot of anxiety at work. Can you tell me if I’m just overthinking and reading way too much into things? What should I do going forward?

I wish I could tell you what’s going on but, like you, I don’t know.

As I was reading through your letter, I was ready to tell you that this might have nothing to do with you at all. This is a hard and weird time for many people, and Zoe might have her own stuff going on that’s causing her to be more withdrawn at work. That would be the case even if we weren’t in a pandemic; it’s easy to fall into thinking another person’s behavior is about something we’ve done, when often they’re not thinking about us at all!

But if you’re seeing her continue to be warm and relaxed with others while she’s reserved and chillier with you … well, it might be about something between the two of you. Or it might not be! But it’s not unreasonable to notice the difference and wonder what happened.

The thing is, there are so, so many possible explanations, some of them about something you’ve “done” and others things you would have no control over. To illustrate how broad the range of explanations could be: Maybe you got a project she really wanted and she feels like you stepped on her toes. Maybe you’re a talker and she’s trying to keep conversations short because she finds it hard to extricate herself otherwise. Maybe she was bothered by a comment you made on her work or a political viewpoint you shared, or she feels you didn’t give her enough credit for a project you both contributed to. Maybe you are obsessed with Animal Crossing and she just cannot take any more discussion of it. And on and on.

If you reflect on when the change started, that might point you to what happened. If she became chillier right after you were lavishly praised for work in which her role wasn’t acknowledged, or right after a political debate the two of you had over lunch … well, that might be your answer. If you figure it out, then you can decide if it makes sense to approach her and try to clear the air.

But if you don’t figure it out, you’ve got two options. One, of course, is to ask her about it. If you do that, you’d want to approach her in a way that’s respectful of her boundaries and doesn’t sound like you’re angry or deeply hurt. (You might be deeply hurt! But she’s allowed to pull back from social relationships at work, and you’re more likely to get a good outcome if it’s clear you recognize that.) You could say something like, “I might be misinterpreting, but have I done anything to upset you? You’ve seemed less comfortable talking to me lately and if I did something to cause that, I’d want to try to resolve it. I really value you as a colleague and don’t want to be unknowingly offending people!”

If she tells you that no, there’s nothing wrong, at that point you’d need to accept the answer, even if her behavior doesn’t change. You don’t necessarily need to believe that answer, but you’d have to figure that she has the right to change the nature of the relationship, as long as she’s being professional and not actively unpleasant. It will never be enjoyable for someone to become noticeably cooler toward you, but the best response is simply to respect her boundaries and behave professionally in return. In particular, make sure you don’t respond with chilliness yourself! It can be easy to fall into that response, especially if you feel hurt, but if you’re both being chilly it can escalate into something more problematic – and weirder and more uncomfortable for any bystanders. Be pleasant, just give her space.

The other option is to skip the conversation, accept that Zoe seems to want space from you, and give it to her. The benefit of this approach is that it really respects her right to set the terms on which she engages socially with you. The disadvantage is, of course, that it precludes you from finding out if you did something that upset her and from attempting to resolve it. Sometimes, though, simply recognizing and respecting the ways a person seems to be trying to reset the relationship – and not trying to push for answers or changes – can be an act of goodwill, and can itself help repair whatever went wrong. Not always, of course. But sometimes.

The good news is that once you choose one of these options, I think the situation will get somewhat easier. Zoe might not alter anything about her behavior, but hopefully you’ll have more of a framework for making your peace with the ways the relationship has changed.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 170 comments… read them below }

  1. Skeezix*

    Sometimes you haven’t done anything wrong.

    I once had a co-worker who flipped to disliking me when she found out I had graduated with another co-worker that she heartily disliked.

    1. Exhausted Trope*

      Skeezix, people can be so odd and highly illogical at times. I’ve given up on figuring them out.

    2. Aitch Arr*

      Seeing your username made me smile. My grandmother’s nickname for my grandfather was Skeezix.


  2. Julianna*

    I have a coworker who could’ve written the same post about me! If he reflected on it deeply, he might trace the change in my attitude towards him to the day before election day when he told me that he thinks that Donald Trump is a really good person.

    1. Weekend Please*

      Yep. There are a lot of hot button issues right now. You very easily could have made an off handed comment that you don’t even remember that offended her or made her see you have very different values.

      1. chewingle*

        I was thinking that, also. OP mentions this happened after the pandemic when they all returned to the office. Is it possible this coworker sees you as not taking it seriously? Do you refuse to wear a mask? Do you make insensitive jokes at the expense of all the people who have died? I have one coworker I’ve become cold towards because she keeps accusing us all of behaving as if we’re under martial law and also actively getting upset with people who choose to work-from-home.

        1. Weekend Please*

          It could also be the other way around. Does she hate wearing a mask and feels like you are taking it too seriously? Is she anti-vax? Did you get the vaccine and she is upset that she hasn’t been able to?

          It could also be political. It is very easy to think that those around us will share our views but it is often not true. You could have made a comment about a politician, the stimulus, the shutdowns, racial tensions, the police, ect. that offended her that didn’t even register as controversial to you.

        2. JM60*

          My initial impression when reading was that the co-worker is just social distancing for safety reasons, and the OP was misinterpreting that as chilliness. Though, the fact that she’s social with others makes that unlikely. It is possible that they are social with others because others are more careful to use precautions, such as with more physical distance and mask usage, while the OP isn’t as careful. I don’t want to socialize with people outside my home if they aren’t both maintaining distance and wearing a mask over their mouth and nose.

          1. Tara*

            Yes, and it could be that the OP made an off-hand comment about seeing someone, and even if they were being safe if they didn’t elaborate on the measures they took their coworker assumed they weren’t being safe. I’ve seen people do that.

      2. JSPA*

        Or carelessly made a comment that you intended as snark, but the tone didn’t work right, or coworker didn’t know you considered yourselves “obviously” on the same side of the issue.

      3. cncx*

        yup, that’s what happened to me. a coworker reacted poorly to a *book i was reading that had nothing to do with anything* and decided, based on me reading that book, that i was… anti-semitic.
        The book was not a religious book or a conspiracy theory book, it was a book on literary theory.
        Sometimes something that small is enough to make people flip a switch.

    2. Frenchie Too*

      That makes sense. I was turned off by a guy because he voted TWICE for trump. We had what seemed like mutual interest. I knew he had voted for him the first time. But, many did and then regretted it. Not him. He voted for him again.
      I can still be his friend. But I can’t imagine being intimate with someone who could overlook all the crass comments and actions. Too bad. I hope he finds someone that is compatible with him and his views.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      We have people of all political stripes in my office, and this is why we don’t discuss politics in the office.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t do it because I don’t want to know if people are conspiracy cultists. Just do the work and talk about the weather and leave me alone. I didn’t used to be this way before the 2016 election. Now I’m dreading going back into an office because I don’t want to hear about Q and essential oils and microchips and damn it, Fergus, put your damn mask back on.

        1. Who is the asshole*

          Yeah we did find some conspiracy theorists in the company because they loudly complained about Covid measures. Could have done without that information.

        2. MCMonkeybean*

          Yeah, I try really hard not to know about the beliefs of my coworkers because I don’t want to find out something I don’t want to know about them that might make me like them less.

          A meeting I was in devolved into discussions on vaccines and who was and wasn’t getting them and I had to turn my volume off for a few minutes cause I didn’t want to hear it. (Had a real close call where I almost complained to my husband forgetting that “muting” the compute volume was not the same thing as muting my microphone lol!)

    4. Eyeroll*

      So much this. Tell me you don’t trust vaccines (generally), watch as I squirm away. I once had a one/one language instructor (through work) spend a good part of a session on a tangent telling me how vaccines cause autism and shutting down any topic changes. To make things worse, I happened to know one of his other students had a son that had just been diagnosed with autism. Things got pretty cold after that on my end; I also reported him, but as I’m quite certain I wasn’t the only one he was subjecting to his comments, I doubt he realized it was me.

  3. Bex*

    I can’t see anything the OP has done from the letter. I feel silly mentioning it, but is there any chance Zoe misinterpreted your work space reassignment to somehow supervising her? (Since you’re behind her and might have visibility to her screen or something?)

    That’s the only thing I can think of, honestly, that stands out at all in this letter. If somehow the move made her nervous/anxious/something else

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Maybe it’s something else that has to do with the new seating. Like maybe LW hums, or smacks her gum, or some other habit that really annoys Zoe.

      1. Jolene*

        I wondered something similar. I tend to be somewhat messy/disorganized, and although I keep my clutter to my own space, some people have gotten annoyed with me in the past simply because they had to see it (to be clear, I’m talking about disorganized stacks of paper, not rotting food or anything). I had a coworker who got frustrated with me despite not even sharing an office with me because she occasionally had to come by my desk to relay information to me and it angered her to see a disorganized space.

    2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      You know, I hate having people looking over my shoulder at my screen. Not even because I’m goofing off or looking at sketchy things. I just really hate it. People reading over my shoulder also makes me oddly homicidal.

      It doesn’t happen often, and if it does, I really hope I don’t take it out on people, but I can see someone being just perpetually irritated at the OP for this, even if it’s just how seats are.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        This is what those privacy screen thingies are so good for. You have to view the screen at the right angle to see what’s on it. Really important for information security, and it’s been required on laptops at several of my workplaces (and on monitors as well at some).

      2. Nicotene*

        Ugh I used to have a desk where people would be able to see the screen from the hallway, across the room, or from the open stairwell to another floor – and my back was to them all (which is uncomfortable anyway) giving me a panopticon feel at all times. Hated that workspace.

      3. Angela*

        Why do people do that? I would get frustrated when someone came by to ask a question or chat; I’d see their eyes flicker to my screen every time. I was never doing anything strange or interesting on the screen, I was very strict in what I’d look up on the work computer versus my own phone. But it’s like people have this innate rude curiosity that they see a screen and they *must* look to see what’s going on.

        1. JustaTech*

          I’ll admit that I have a very hard time *not* looking at screens, including other people’s screens. Like, on a flight I can be watching my own show on my own screen only to realize I’ve actually been watching the person in front of me’s screen for the past 20 minutes.

          So at work I make a point of looking either at my coworker’s face if I’m talking to them, or at the ground or the wall above screen height while I’m walking past.

      4. Medusa*

        Same, I really hate it when people do that. I especially hate it when I’m in the middle of editing a sentence and the person looking at my screen will point to what I had just typed/deleted or whatever and tell me to delete the next word. Like, Hulk-level rage.

        But I don’t see how OP is doing this? She’s just sitting behind Zoe, right? Not looking at her work.

      5. allathian*

        Yuck. I’d be constantly hunching my shoulders. I like to have my back to a cubicle wall. If it has to be an open office, then at least put the seats facing each other with a big enough screen in between so you aren’t looking at the person facing you constantly. I can deal with people walking behind me, but I don’t want to sit in an office that’s set up like a classroom with everyone facing the same way.

  4. Nicotene*

    If the timing basically tracks to when you sat by her, it might be that – without doing anything *wrong* necessarily – she is being bugged by the seating arrangement. If this is cube farm / open office it’s more likely. I was often irrationally annoyed by people’s (work related!) phone calls or the sounds of them eating lunch or whatever when I was trying to concentrate; I also got sick of those people and wouldn’t choose to hang out with them more, although they were not really to blame. The open office is a curse. This wouldn’t necessarily change Alison’s advice but I’d lean towards option #2 if this tracks.

    1. Snailing*

      Yep, I always try to be extra friendly to new hires so they feel welcome when they are getting settled in, but I have found I need to dial this back because they will often then think I’m their social outlet in the office when I really just wanted that to be a way of saying “Hi, you’re welcome here and we can chat during lunch sometimes” rather than “Hi! I want to be your new best work friend, come to me for anything and everything at any time!” I recognize this is more of a me problem and I’ve gotten a better feel for how to strike the right tone and balance from the get go, but it could be the Zoe overshot a bit here and is trying t dial it back to a regular working relationship. Or just needs a break from the people that sit around her all the time.

    2. Le Sigh*

      Ugh, yeah. For years I had to listen to my coworker snack on very snack on her mid-morning nuts. Slowly, one at a time, and with her mouth open. She left and was replaced by a coworker who slowly eats a mid-afternoon apple.

      I like them both but it made me die inside.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      This is reminding me of my former bully deciding she hated my guts after oh, a couple of months of sitting next to each other in the same office.

  5. Ursula*

    OP, it’s probably not you. I’m the type that becomes distant/withdrawn when I’m dealing with personal stuff, but I wouldn’t feel I owed an explanation to a newer teammate that I haven’t known long. Don’t take it personally unless she brings something up to you directly :)

    1. irene adler*

      Yes! Another vote for “it’s not you, LW”.

      IN fact, I am the “Zoe” these days. Am dealing with personal family stuff that I do not want to discuss at work. In fact, I don’t want anyone to know about it. I try to keep things ‘normal’ by participating in chats as they come up. But dang, it’s tough. Mostly I let folks talk. But I really want to be left alone.

    2. Cookiehamster*

      But OP specifically mentions that Zoe has only become colder when dealing with them. Not anyone else.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        It might be the proximity too. I can hold it together for a brief conversation, but not for extended, regular, chatty chats these days.

      2. animorph*

        When I was going through personal problems, I found it far easier to put on a mask with people I didn’t sit next to, and didn’t have to interact with all day every day.

        The co-worker I was chilly (and downright grumpy at times) to has now left. And I feel awful for how I behaved to them, particularly as they were so cheery, I’m truly ashamed by my behaviour. But I didn’t want to talk out loud at work about all the monumental shit that piled on in my life in the space of a year (seriously, it could have been a TV drama, looking back it was a bizarre time). Our manager was awful to us at the same time, which just compounded problems.

        So I agree, it might not be LW and I would give Zoe space.

      3. u know*

        I feel like I’ve been in this situation recently. For me, I started being chilly with the person because the person was acting like a bully and expected people to just get over it after she had done her damage. Obviously this situation could be different than the one described here.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      This is exactly what I thought. This has been an awful year for so many people. I just automatically give everyone I cross paths with SO MUCH benefit of the doubt. (The being warm with other people and not LW does stand out, but h3ll, maybe LW reminds her of someone.)

  6. old curmudgeon*

    Way back decades ago, I was in a similar situation, only in my case, my “Zoe” was my supervisor. And she and I worked in the same office, about ten feet apart. I spent about three months with my supervisor giving me the total silent treatment – she wouldn’t say a word in response to anything I said, unless it was to complain loudly (so loudly that people three or four offices away could hear every word) that I was stupid and hopeless and she had never met anyone as STUPID as me in all her life.

    To this day, I do not know what the heck I did that annoyed her so much; she had been very friendly and talkative right up until the minute that she wasn’t.

    I somehow managed to stay sweetness and light for that entire three months of silence and yelling. Yes, I was job-hunting, but I was living in a region with a 15% unemployment rate and I was very early in my career, so I didn’t get any nibbles.

    And then, after three months of that, one day she walked into the office wearing a new dress, and I said “Oh, Zoe, that is a lovely dress, I really like those colors,” because it WAS pretty and I was still trying hard to be the gracious one.

    She looked at me and said “oh, you like it? I got it at the Acme Store, it was there in three colors but I liked this one the best, what do you think of the shoes I got, oh, let me tell you what my dog did last night, it was so funny!”

    And she was right back to chattering all day. Still don’t know what ticked her off, or why she decided to get over it, unless it was just that she decided she wasn’t going to get a rise out of me and was tired of not conversing all day, but I wound up working for that company for 18 years. Fortunately not with her as my supervisor that whole time, however!

    1. Blisskrieg*

      I have an aunt like this. She will flip from hot to cold with one or more family members and ignore them for years. At the same time she will seek out favorites and spend months/years doing special things with them. We truly have a really lovely family and the people she singles out either way seem to be random. It took us a long time to notice the pattern. I would love to know what’s at the root of this type of behavior/personality.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I have an aunt like that, too. She always has at least one person in her life to whom she Is Not Speaking. She always has to have someone who is Out of Favor with her, for one reason or another.

        1. Blisskrieg*

          You may be right. She also has a pathological need to be “right.” She comes across so nice for so long that it is hard to realize this at first. The need to be right along with the hot/cold may well stem from needing to be in control and at the center of everything. Good point.

      2. Kaitydidd*

        Hi, are you my cousin? My mom always seems to have some beef with at least one of her siblings. Currently it’s a sister who won’t speak to her, so I passed health updates about their dad to my mom while he was ill. It’s very off-putting behavior, especially to grow up around. I didn’t realize how much it had affected me until just recently in therapy.

  7. SBH*

    I’m wondering if Zoe is putting a little space on things because LW is perhaps being over-familiar, leading her to appear cold/withdrawn because that’s a lot easier than having to have some future conversation with a colleague where you tell them you’re not romantically interested in them. I know it’s a reach considering the content of the letter, but it’s not as though this is an uncommon occurrence.

    1. Lisa*

      That was my thought as well. If she thinks, or feels, that you’re hitting on her, this is the exact behaviour I would expect. It is quite possible that you are not, or did not intend to give that impression, but it may be something to consider in addition to the items Alison listed above.

    2. BadWolf*

      This is where my gut pinged too (colored by my personal experience of lunch suddenly being a date, joke/non-jokes about if we weren’t coworkers then we could date, awkward presents…)

    3. Kippy*

      Or Zoe maybe not even worried about a romantic interest but just thinking LW wants more out of the friendship. Zoe may be perfectly fine with them being work acquaintances but not want a deeper friendship but senses that LW does, rightly or wrongly. Zoe’s now pulling back to set boundaries.

      1. Lacey*

        Yes, I’ve definitely pulled back on a work friendship when it started feeling like the person wanted to be friends outside of work too.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Same here. Also the person sent me weird text messages on the work IM like he was trying to be controlling, followed me around (even if we weren’t going to the same meeting), and made weird random remarks constantly regarding women (always in a negative light). There was a while he was actively staring at me across the other side of our desk, which I had to go to the boss to stop. Numerous times I had to ask him to please leave me alone because I was busy. He was a huge reason, though not the only one, why I left that job. Probably he could have written that also, at least very early on.

      2. Uranus Wars*

        Yes, I had the same thought on boundaries. When you set them they usually are a little klunky, I feel like freezing someone out is a little extreme if Zoe is not doing it with others but could be because they are in the office together and she just wants to put her head down and work, not have a new friend.

    4. Elenna*

      Or heck, it could even be the other way around – maybe Zoe realized that she was starting to develop a crush on LW and is deliberately backing off! Not that there’s any specific reason to think that, but my point is that there’s a lot of possible reasons, some of which may have nothing whatsoever to do with LW’s actions. The only thing LW can really control is their response – best to not push too hard and just accept that Zoe probably has some reason that makes sense to her.

      1. JB*

        Honestly, this was my first thought. I have a strict personal ‘no dating coworkers’ policy and if I developed a crush on a coworker, I might start acting like this Zoe for a bit until I could get over it.

    5. lest003*

      Yup. That was my thought. If the LW is a man, and she’s a woman… well, let’s just say MANY women have been there before. Sure, it sounds sexist, but I can name several women off the top of my head who were friendly at work then suddenly the guy gets flirty, or overreaching, or just too friendly. And even if it’s not like that, she could have had other experiences like that in her working past and get gun shy around LW, thinking it could evolve into that.

      Sadly, it’s happened to me more than once at work and at different companies… I want to be friendly with everyone, and a man (usually married, and older) takes it too far as they are bored/want to flirt/etc… I’m sorry, I’m there to get my paycheck, not flirt. And now, I tend to withdraw from these situations so it just doesn’t start in the first place. I’ll make my friends out of work.

  8. Sled Dog Mama*

    LW it’s entirely possible that whatever is going on has absolutely nothing to do with you or anything in the office. For the past four years I find that I have to force myself not to be cold to those with a young infant in March or a child with a birthday in March. It’s not them, it’s self preservation. Every time I see a healthy infant or someone tells me about their child’s wonderful March birthday party (or this year just that they had a birthday) it sends me on a spiral. Why does your child get that and mine didn’t?

    It could also be that you said something in passing or she learned something about you that has seriously affected her opinion of you. An example of this could be that she learned you are supportive of same sex relationships and while that has absolutely no reflection on you as a person or your ability to do your job (and really sucks that in 2021 she would judge someone for this) it’s something she disagrees with and that is making her colder toward you. For something said in passing… well a coworker of mine recently referred to those who wear headscarves for religious reasons as rag-heads (we work in a cancer center, religion is usually not why we see women wearing a scarf or head wrap). I don’t think this person is aware enough to notice that I’d been less friendly to her since then but I’m certainly not interested in socializing with her, even in the breakroom anymore. (I’m aware that this is a very extreme example of something that could have been said and I don’t think the LW would have said anything offensive in this way, it’s just an example of something I heard that changed my opinion of a person)

    As Alison said you won’t know unless you ask Zoe and there are plenty of reasons both for and against that.

    1. FridayFriyay*

      I’m so sorry for your loss. I also withdrew from coworkers and workplace friendliness in general when I was going through recurrent pregnancy loss and having a difficult time coping. I hated everyone and everything and was so incredibly sad. OP, it really may not be about you at all.

    2. Alpaca Bag*

      Sorry for your loss. I have vaguely similar reactions when people want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and they don’t know it’s the anniversary of my Mom’s passing.

    3. allathian*

      I’m so sorry for your loss.

      Calling a person who chooses to cover their hair for religious reasons a rag-head is uncalled for, and I’m so sorry this happened to you. (I’m using “their” here because Sikh men also cover their hair for religious reasons, and I’ve heard them called rag-heads as well.) I admit that I have issues with male authority over women, particularly religious authority, and especially the idea that men are such slaves to their instincts that women have to cover up so the men aren’t tempted, that it makes me ragey. For this reason I don’t think I could ever be anything except coolly professional with a woman who chooses to cover her hair for religious reasons. There’s no way I’d stoop so low as to call such women names even in my own head, it’s just that their values are so different from mine that I feel I would never want to be friends with them. To be fair, I don’t have any work friends currently, although I have had them in the past.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        Wow, that’s… yikes. I don’t think you can assume that much about someone’s values based just on their head covering. People vary wildly in how they practice and interpret their religions and in what ways it impacts their values and behavior.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        Okay, so- as a non-muslim that follows a lot of muslim women on youtube and instagram, most women who wear head or face coverings here in the states do so as an individual choice, an act of worship, a fashion statement, and a connection/visible signal of their culture. Modesty is a part of it, but a lot of times that modesty not even about men so much as what they’re comfortable showing or not showing of their body. Their hair is something private. We all have parts of ourselves that we keep private, and we all get to choose what they are.
        An example- I’m uncomfortable wearing short shorts. Yes, that has something to do with growing up in a patriarchal culture and with a mother who bought into that. I do not agree with those sentiments, I welcome others to wear what they think is attractive and appropriate. However, I still don’t wear short shorts because I’m uncomfortable doing so and don’t enjoy it. My shorts aren’t even religious or cultural and I make choices about modesty that don’t have to to with the irrepressible lusts of men.

  9. Sondheim Geek*

    Honestly, OP, sometimes it’s just a personality thing. That’s not to say that you have a bad personality, just that it may not mesh with hers. I’ve definitely known people (classmates, co-workers, acquaintances) who – for reasons I still can’t explain – I just didn’t feel I meshed with, even if they were genuinely nice people. It sounds like she isn’t being rude and it’s not interfering with your work, so, as unsatisfactory as it may be, I think the best course of action may be to just shrug it off.

    1. Myrin*

      I was thinking that. It’s quite possible that Zoe makes an effort to be very friendly and welcoming to newer hires and then slowly lets it taper off when she realises she doesn’t really get along with the not-so-new-anymore hire’s actual personality.
      I always think that it sucks to realise that not everyone likes us but I also think it’s an important thing to internalise and to learn not to take to heart.

      1. Lacey*

        Yup. Or she just doesn’t have the energy to keep it up that long. Like, I can be super friendly and outgoing for a day or two, but it can’t last. People always wonder what’s wrong, but I just get tired and I have to focus on work more than on being friendly.

        1. Lacey*

          Although, if she’s still being friendly with others, it’s probably not this unless she find the OP particularly draining.

          1. Tupac Coachella*

            This is possible, too. I tend to pick up on people’s energy pretty intensely, and especially if I generally like someone, I might not fully realize how much they drain me right away (BEC effect helps me notice it fairly quickly when someone I don’t like is draining me, so they may never perceive me as warm). I know I’ve gone cold on someone I was previously friendly with once the drain became apparent. I usually start to see the person being “drama” or “flaky;” every interaction with them feels like a lot of work, and I don’t have the energy for it. They’re probably quite normal on the drama/flake scale, but my threshold is lower because I absorb all of it at such a high level. It wasn’t anything they did, I just reached my limit on them and they were downgraded from “promising friendship” to “acquaintance.” It sounds very cold as I write it, but I know I’d have a hard time explaining it if someone called me out on it, so maybe OP will find my perspective useful if Zoe says they didn’t do anything but OP still feels cold shouldered. If you don’t realize it’s a “you” thing, it CAN feel like the other person did something wrong (i.e., “bringing drama”), and it’s not fun to have someone dislike you, but sometimes the amount of energy you siphon from certain people isn’t within your control, whether they realize that or not.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        That’s exactly what I thought when I first read it. The initial friendliness was “you’re new, welcome”, but now she’s back at normal. And the people OP has seen her remain warm with are just people she genuinely likes, and there are probably others she’s chillier with too, but it doesn’t stick out as much.

    2. Momma Bear*

      I would go with “it’s not about you” until you find out otherwise. I wouldn’t be surprised if something about the seating arrangement was part of it. Remember that letter about the person who quit after they lost their private office?

      I had a situation where I was informed that people at our satellite office thought I was cold and I have no idea where they got that idea. But it explained some of their behavior when I left. My current coworkers like me fine and I don’t think I’ve massively changed my personality. *shrug*

    3. Bostonian*

      Yup. This is part of why I would advise to not bring it up. You don’t want to be the coworker asking “why don’t you like meeee?” That’s a surefire way to make the relationship worse. Now it’s A Thing. And coworker has to worry about if she’s not being “friendly enough” to you. (Of course, this is assuming that she’s still respectful and pleasant in a professional sense.)

      And you’re probably not going to get a fulfilling answer. Chances are, if it is a perceived slight, she won’t want to talk about it (especially if she thinks you’re going to argue against it). And if it is just a personality mismatch, she’s DEFINITELY not going to admit that.

      I don’t see anything useful coming out of talking to her about it.

    4. I Could be Zoe*

      I was thinking something like this. Perhaps the initial friendliness was Zoe getting to know OP and overtime she’s come to a place where she doesn’t feel like OP is someone she wants to have a particular friendship with.

      This letter sounds just like a situation I am going through with a colleague. We used to be friends, but I felt as though she came to think of me more as a friend than a coworker – oversharing her personal and medical issues with me, freely sharing with me when she was slacking off at work, constantly de-prioritizing work I had for her (because we were friends and I “would understand”), and constantly bombarding me with every single negative thought she had about our workplace. I had to distance myself because I just couldn’t take it anymore! I still like her as a person and am happy to make small talk and be cordial with her at work, but I no longer have any desire to put in the effort to be friends with her.

      1. Bostonian*

        Wow. I could have written this exact post about a coworker I started out really friendly with (hanging out outside of work, taking breaks together) but eventually distanced myself from (professional politeness). I’m so glad to read that this is so much more common than I realized!

    5. Meetkat*

      I have also intensely disliked a fellow employee for no reason I could my finger on’ although catching her in a huge lie did not help . As well she was always in the bosses office crying so there was that too

  10. Toss a Coin to Your Witcher*

    I could be Zoe! I always go out of my way to be nice and chatty to the new people at work. 99% of the time, it’s fine and normal. 1% of the time, someone gets really clingy or their personality rubs me the wrong way – and so to extricate myself professionally, I try to maintain a nice profesh working relationship, but I put a stop to the “extra” – walks for coffee, extra conversation in the break room etc. Basically a “slow fade” but for coworkers instead of friendships.

    I AM NOT SAYING YOU ARE CLINGY. That’s my own personal red flag that drives me up the wall – but it could be something similar with Zoe. It sounds like she’s trying to handle this in a graceful and professional way, and I agree with Alison – it would be graceful (and Zou will likely be grateful), if you adjusted to the new normal and maintained a professional relationship. You will have other office friendships – and interacting with a variety of folks will help take the pressure off your relationship with Zoe. (I know that’s probably tough right now when there are so few people in the office.)

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yes, please just try to adjust. Don’t ask her about it– she’s being distant but not rude. Judging from how she’s behaving– professional and polite– I think you’ll make it worse if you approach her.

      Sometimes people don’t mesh. Sometimes they start out very friendly and then realize they’re not compatible. It could be a reflection on you, but it may not be. You should take the stance that you cannot change her actions, only your reaction to them.

    2. Chilipepper*

      I agree, Zoe is being professional and it would be ok to just be professional back.
      But I understand wanting to know why! And it is ok to let it go.

      Thanks for the ear worm “toss a coin to your witcher!” *sarcasm

  11. twocents*

    I used to have a coworker who dealt with stress by “picking” on someone. I use quotes because it wasn’t the kind of thing that could get her fired, but she’d suddenly be more critical, point out mistakes that most people would let slide (eg a misplaced comma in an email), and generally react like whatever you did was BEC. After a few weeks, it would pass, and next time, her target was usually someone different.

    I doubt this is Zoe’s problem, but I share just to illustrate the possibility that, sometimes, the way you are treated has absolutely nothing to do with you.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “I used to have a coworker who dealt with stress by “picking” on someone.”

      I’ve had a few bosses like that – unfortunately!

  12. Sabine the Very Mean*

    I’ve been the one who fades away though I do it more subtly than this. I do it when I simply realize I no longer enjoy the friendship. I just….realized they’re not the friend I wanted after all. To be honest, it is usually when things have moved to “clinger” status. And because I struggle with standing firm in my boundaries, this creates a recipe for the end of a friendship.

    This doesn’t sound like your situation, necessarily, but just know it could be any old reason or no good reason. And it is uncomfortable to be in a situation like you describe where you’re alone with faded-friend and you’re just trying to stay professional and hope there isn’t a confrontation about why the fade-out.

    I’m glad she’s not unprofessional. And it sounds like you’re staying professional as well. I’m sorry this happened, OP.

  13. Niii-i*

    I was coming to say this! I too become distant when I’m dealing personal stuff. I try to Be More pleasant than Zoe here, saying good morning and such, but excusing myself from The coffee break, keeping The chitchat to The minimum and so on. She might Be a bit rude, but I would try to shrug IT off as long as she is pleasant enaugh to get along work-vise. Good luck!

  14. Salad Daisy*

    Covid has made us all crazy. I have to restrain myself from recoiling in horror if I think someone is encroaching on what I instinctively have decided is my personal socially distant safe space. Including making the Japanese Batsu sign (also good for warding off vampires). My first thought is that she has the same issue. Whether consciously or not, she thinks you are too physically close to her and needs to put some space between you.

  15. StillAPandemic*

    I’ll be brutally honest – I’m pretty cold with coworkers who aren’t wearing their masks properly when I was formerly friendly. I’m in a high-risk category and being cold is about the only way I can keep people using it as a chin strap or mouth warmer distant from me. Especially if they’re not wearing it properly and they want to idly chat.

    OP may be doing everything perfectly. Zoe may have many other issues, none of them dealing with OP at all.

    But that’s why I went from Ms. Friendly to Elsa locking the doors overnight.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’ve had a similar reaction with coworkers who talk about their vacations or eating in restaurants or other risky behaviors. I’m not trying to be rude or mean, and I don’t even dislike them as people. I just need to do what I can to keep myself and my family safe right now, which means spending as little time as I can in close proximity.

    2. one more scientist*

      I also find myself reacting like Zoe around people who seem cavalier about masks and/or traveling during the pandemic. It makes perfect sense that she would be polite but trying to distance herself from you.

    3. cncx*

      not related to OP at all ,but yes on the coldness to people who aren’t masking or taking anything seriously. I’m also high risk. i had a friend who went on vacation in late summer to a high risk area, then dropped by my house unannounced, claimed he had a bathroom emergency when i told him he couldn’t come in, then stood around and tried to chat for a half hour, mask off, while i was…on the clock in home office.
      He has since told people i was cold to him because i was “stressed out about work” no dude, i was stressed out about you forcing yourself into my living space uninvited and unwelcome.

  16. Trisha*

    The absence of information makes us think all of kinds of outlandish reasons – why not just say something? “Hey, everything okay? I’m getting the vibe that there’s something off.” I don’t really understand why people tip toe around and stew about stuff. You’re not going to be able to resolve an issue between 2 people when only 1 person is talking about it. This just contributes to toxic workplaces.

    1. Lacey*

      They tiptoe because they’re afraid confronting it will make the issue worse. And sometimes it does.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        Exactly this. People with high self-awareness will go out of their way to accommodate people with low self-awareness. This is why Linda in Operations puts all her personal calls on speaker phone and Bradley in IT goes fragrantly barefoot and Kim from Accounting writes mass emails in cyan Comic Sans with a black background. The rest of us are taken aback, and we don’t have a script for this degree of weirdness. We can’t predict their response to feedback, so we just try to give them a wide berth. (For the few who would embrace feedback, it becomes a vicious circle.)

      2. saf*

        Yes. I used to have a co-worker who was so manipulative. She would be friendly. Then turn on you. Repeatedly. She just liked the power. Yeah, I understand she had a messed up childhood, and issues with her parents that led her to have other relationship issues. But she was just mean. It took me a long time to figure out what was going on, and I got fairly hurt several times.

      3. Susan*

        Sadly I agree. I had a co-worker who suddenly turned against me, it was awful and so obvious that other people in the office started asking me what was going on. So I approached her about it but it definitely made things worse, she said that nothing was the matter, looked really uncomfortable and after that if we were walking towards each other along the corridor she would dart into a room to avoid me. It was all so public and humiliating and made me feel quite ill. It was part of why I left that job, and on the day I left she sought me out to say goodbye and wish me luck and moved in for an awkward hug. I just didn’t know what to say. I don’t know to this day what I did to make her behave this way towards me. I know that it shouldn’t matter after all these years and I’m unlikely ever to see her again, but there’s a part of me that still wonders.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      They tiptoe because they can’t escape each other. With friends, if you ask and it goes south, you can withdraw socially, but at work, you must keep interacting.

    3. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Nah, this is rarely a good idea in my experience. I’m not going to tell a coworker that I stopped liking them or their company. Just too fraught with awkwardness and confrontation. Better that folks are mutually gracious; I’ll pretend all is well if you’ll pretend you don’t notice.

      1. Firecat*

        I guess for me the kicker is that she is being noticably colder in groups. To me that is not gracious and smacks of being performative.

        I find it odd how so often we are told that quietly accepting someone’s complete social ostrazation of you at work is just something you accept without question…while in the same breath everyone agrees that socializing and small talk is extremely important for working well together.

        I sadly agree with everyone saying – don’t ask – but I do think it’s a complete failure of the offending party to not speak up in 90% of cases. In my younger days when I would ask before I learned it’s futility it was usually a misunderstanding.

        You let a door slam in my face! Actually had no idea you were there and would have held it for you if I knew.

        You stole my parking spot! Oh I didn’t know we had assigned spots. We don’t but I always park there!!! Ok I’ll park somewhere else.

        And then once the misunderstanding or minor infraction is fixed the person is still cold. I’ve always chalked it up to most people’s complete inability to admit when they are wrong. They’d rather still be mad and petty then reckon with their role in the awkwardness or admit they were mistaken. Because if they were mistaken then what does it say about them that they ignored you for a month?

    4. Aggretsuko*

      It probably would not be a good idea to be honest about this with a coworker you are trapped with five days a week. A smart/polite person would just lie and say everything is fine anyway.

      1. Firecat*

        Unless it’s something deeply personal like politics or religion – then it’s not polite at all to pretend everything is fine while ostracizing someone for something that clearly bothers you.

        If you hate that they microwave fish and they’ve given you the curtesy of asking what’s wrong then just talk about it. Who knows maybe they will stop microwaving fish!

    5. MCMonkeybean*

      A lot of the issues on this site could be solved with better communication, but in cases like this that can be a risk. It may be that it has nothing to do with the OP, or that the OP has done something minor and it would be easily remedied with a short conversation… but what if the answer is that Zoe just doesn’t like the OP? If everything now is fine and professional then trying to force a conversation on the topic might make things weirder and more uncomfortable instead of improving them.

      Doesn’t mean it may not be worth trying if that is the route that OP wants to take. But I do think this may be a case where just accepting the relationship has changed and moving forward might be the better option.

  17. jm*

    i had an officemate who barely returned my morning greeting and mostly only spoke to clients who came in or the friend she kept on the phone for entire afternoons at a time. yet she’d be extremely friendly during team meetings and had at least one coworker she seemed tight with. it wasn’t until i found out she maintained that hot and cold with my other teammates that i accepted it wasn’t me.

  18. I'm just here for the cats*

    Maybe it’s something else that has to do with the new seating. Like maybe LW hums, or smacks her gum, or some other habit that really annoys Zoe.

  19. Mugs*

    I can’t help but think that you sitting behind her now might have something to do with it? I hate to ask, but by any chance do you sniffle a lot, or make body noises you’re not aware of? Or even make more personal calls then you realize?

    Good luck with everything!!

  20. Tired of Covid-and People*

    I hear you OP, this kind of behavior is hard to take. I wish people could be adult enough to have an honest conversation instead of just giving the cold shoulder like this. Of course, anybody can decide at any time that they no longer want a relationship with someone, but it is so mean to act like this in the workplace no less. If the coworker could ghost completely, it would be puzzling but easier on you.

    I agree that if you ask them about it, they likely won’t be honest because they seem passive-aggressive and if they could have handled confrontation, they would have let you know that something you did bothered them in the first place. I did ask someone had I done anything to offend them in a situation like this, of course they said no but the relationship never resumed. They just moved on with their life without me and it hurt, but I took comfort in that I knew I had not consciously done anything to hurt or harm this person. You do the same. Best of luck.

    1. Bostonian*

      And what would that “honest conversation” look like? “I discovered our personalities don’t mesh, so I’m not going to be as friendly”?? Why on earth would you insert that kind of weirdness into a work relationship?

      1. Delphine*

        I don’t think that’s the type of conversation Tired of Covid-and People was envisioning, but going cold after being friendly is already inserting weirdness into a work relationship. That ship has sailed.

        1. Jude*

          Cold could just be another word for professional. She’s not being rude, and TBH no one is owed friendship

  21. shuu_iam*

    My immediate thought was that this was a pandemic problem – that she’s uncomfortable with being back in the office, even with safety measures, and trying to avoid being around people as much as she can. Some of that might also be that she wants a larger personal space bubble than you’re inclined to right now – so any time you come over to talk, she’s internally wishing you’d stand further back. But given that she became less friendly right when in-person work resumed, I would guess she just doesn’t want to be indoors with anyone for 8 hours a day right now, even with masks on. And even stuff like politely responding to greetings encourages coworkers to come nearby and talk with her more.

    (But I could be completely off about this.)

      1. shuu_iam*

        Sure, but also there are enough people who get defensive if you mention having higher precaution levels than them that I could understand if she didn’t want to get into it – especially if she knows LW feels that the office safety measures are plenty. Also many reasons for people having higher precautions rapidly become very personal; for example, if her spouse was in a high-risk category, she might not want that to become public knowledge. Not everyone wants to jump straight into the conversation that could cause unpleasantness with a coworker, especially if the desired outcome – coworkers socialize with you less – could be easily acquired without the conversation.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          This is all so important to remember. If I see someone being reckless about transmission risk right now, my first thought is “they have already shown me they are willing to risk other people’s lives.” Zero interest in starting an argument with someone who is sending those signals!

      2. JM60*

        There are so many videos of people getting defensive, angry, start yelling, and straight up in the face of others when asked to keep physical distance or to pull up their mask. The CDC has even warned against arguing with anti-maskers for this reason, since it makes them even more dangerous.

        I don’t see any indication that the OP would be like that, but not everyone is comfortable telling others to take basic steps to protect them.

        1. JustSayin*

          I might have been on the other side of OP-situatuon. Had a colleague who I got along with really really well at first — work lunches and activities, outside of work outings, lounge room chats etc. But as I got to know her better it just became apparent to me that she was a bit much for me, and I pulled back on chatting and pursuing a meaningful friendship. I dont think she did anything wrong, nothing she could have or should even need to fix. If she had tried to ask me about it, I would have probably played dumb and not been honest. Sometimes friendships fizzle and relationships cool. It’s nobody’s fault and in the context of work, I think it seems like the most appropriate place to allow this to happen without too much drama.

    1. Lunch Ghost*

      I don’t think it’s being in the office in general, given “if we’re in a casual group conversation with some of our other colleagues, she seems a lot more relaxed with everyone else”, but the first thing that crossed my mind is “hm, wonder if she’s discovered she disagrees with OP on something pandemic-related” (OP said she doesn’t want the vaccine/OP got the vaccine and coworker thinks she should have waited/OP mentioned doing something coworker considers unsafe or vice versa… So many possibilities…)

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        This is my mum and uncle right now after my uncle and his wife were pictured on Facebook at a barbecue which breached the stricter restrictions in place in that part of England in August. He still doesn’t know why she’s not really talking to him. I can definitely picture something like you said.

      2. JM60*

        It could be that others are better at maintaining distance and wearing a mask over both mouth and nose when socializing. It could also be that OP has been talking about all the high coronavirus risk activities they’ve been doing recently, while others seem to be safer. Or it could be for reasons unrelated to COVID, but the fact that they socialize with others doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t safety reasons why they cut conversations with OP short.

  22. Weekend Please*

    I have a coworker that could have written something similar. He deeply offended me when he stepped in and tried to “help” when he had no idea what he was doing and implied that I did not know how to do it. He has a history of doing this to women and has caused me a significant amount of unnecessary work. This wasn’t the first time but it was the final straw. I have no doubt that from his point of view he was being helpful but I have no desire to interact more than necessary. I don’t freeze him out but I also end conversations as soon as I politely can unless it is about work.

    I’m not saying that you did anything like this, just sharing a similar experience from the other side. In this case, I really hope he doesn’t ask me about it because I know nothing will change except it will be more awkward.

  23. FreeOfficeSnax*

    At least this co-worker is somewhat cordial. A coworker and I left the same job, at the same time to the same company. Different teams, and management but would cross paths. About 1 month into our time here, she stopped acknowledging my presence. Read: I would say hi with no response, no look my way when entering a room, starting conversations with people I was talking to while ignoring me and my personal favourite *OBVIOUS EYE ROLLING*. At first I really cared about why she was acting this way (we had gone thru a lot at our old place of work so I thought we were friends), but once she started being childish, I just let it go. If we would have to directly work together, I would have addressed it but she has since left the company.

  24. EK*

    I was the Zoe in this situation a few years back. A work friend of mine was slightly junior and needed a lot of help with her work and our demanding boss, and I was a high performer from a similar background who was happy to hold her hand a bit and mentor her. We would frequently stop by each other’s desks to chat. We’d both work late often but we would then go to dinner or drinks, and sometimes do weekend activities. Then one day, she and a bunch of the other 20-something staffers disappeared for a week, leaving me with an even larger workload. I discovered that she and her REAL work friends (a group I wasn’t very tight with) had all gone on vacation together overseas, and she had never mentioned it to me despite our spending a lot of time together. Obviously people can do what they want in their social lives, but I still felt left out and taken advantage of in the work environment. It may not have been the most mature thing to do, but all the advice and drop-by visits and dinners with her stopped right away, and I was polite but brief whenever she visited me. She seemed surprised and confused at the sudden change, but to me the sequence of events and fallout was pretty clear. And, I learned a critical lesson about boundaries at work.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Were you upset that you weren’t invited? Or just that you were not told about it and then got stuck with a larger workload that week? I mean, if you were not a part of this group of friends, I imagine your work friend would not invite you along, because that would be awkward for all of you. It is reasonable to have a group of friends you spend time with and then other friends who are not part of that group. As for just taking off and going overseas, I assume these individuals got approved for time off, so really, your manager should have warned you about that week and tried to help you out. But I would think it reasonable for your friend to give you a heads up, and I can understand you being annoyed that she did not do that, but she might have thought it was taken care of and that you knew all those people would be out that week. I am just curious which part of your friend’s conduct in this upset you in particular.

      1. WellRed*

        I think even in a work relationship, it takes a lot of intentional effort to NOT let someone you regularly work and socialize with know about a big vacation. A lot of effort!

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          It’s hard to know. She might have thought she mentioned it and not realized she failed to let EK know. Or she might have assumed EK knew because usually things like leave are on a calendar somewhere for people to see. I think the manager screwed up a lot by not letting EK know what was going on since it impacted their workload, but I am not sure I know enough about the situation to understand the friend’s position based on EK’s comment. That said, EK was there and knew all the dynamics better than I do, so I am guessing he or she had good reason to be upset, but I think some elements are missing from the comment. And I am curious which part was most upsetting to EK – not being informed, not being invited, getting their workload? All of the above?

  25. blowyournosealready*

    Since this sounds like it happened after you moved behind her, it might be something you’re doing unconsciously that may not even be within your control. I once had to sit next to a “sniffler” for two days at a conference and thought I would lose my mind. I didn’t want to be near the person any more than absolutely necessary because I was so irritated from having to hear “sniffle” every 5 minutes for 10 hours straight.

  26. Lacey*

    There are tons of reasons why this could be. It could be you. You could be irritating to her for reasons that would never occur to you.

    Like, I had a coworker who always wanted to pop over and see what I was working on. HUGE pet peeve and I’m afraid I was a bit cold to her over that, even though she was a very nice person.

    Another coworker always told fart jokes and I was not particularly friendly with him for quite a chunk of time. He eventually ran out of fart jokes and I became considerably friendlier when he did. He’s not a bad person. He just has a sense of humor that I do not enjoy.

  27. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I have been, at different times, both the Zoe and OP in this story. At my first job, I made an unfortunate comment about a departed coworker that they were “not creative”. Meaning they were diligent and good at what they did, but that they wouldn’t, say, design and write a new Google or Facebook from scratch. No shame in that, I am the same way. And the person I’d said it about no longer worked there. By the time my words got to her, they’d apparently passed through several people and had been twisted like in a telephone game, so what she was told was “Bathroom said you’re stupid.” I had no idea what had happened – we still hung out with the same group of people after work, and suddenly she went from being a friend to completely freezing me out. Eventually she got back at me by asking my boss to meet for coffee after work, and warning him to be careful of me, because (she said) I had a tendency to sleep my way to the top. He told me the next day. Now we were both freezing each other out. (Win?)

    I’ve distanced myself from people when we’d gotten too chummy too fast, and then I learned something about them that indicated different values/otherwise was a reason to stop being as chummy. When I saw them playing office politics, because I didn’t want to get caught in that and possibly lose my job or have my career suffer. You never know when someone who’s determined to throw coworkers under the bus, will throw *you* under the bus. Best stay away from both that person, and the damn bus. To the point others made about the sounds like sniffling, I did have a coworker that I sat next to, who had a loud persistent hacking cough, at the rate of several times a minute, all day, every day. A loud hacking sound like that is a migraine trigger to me. I don’t remember if I distanced myself from that coworker, but I suppose I probably did, because I was dying for even a brief break from the coughing. To be fair, this coworker and I were never friends to begin with. I always said hello and goodbye to everyone though. But may have been careful about sharing personal information (any information – anything can be spun out of proportion) with some of my former work friends. I also sat outside of a manager’s office for a while, who was a great guy whenever he and I talked. But every day, I heard him chatting about politics with his friend, in his office with the door open. That was during the 2016 election season. I could not see the man the same way after what I heard coming out of his mouth every day; even though he was not saying these things to me directly.

  28. I am Zoe too*

    I am Zoe right now with one of my colleagues. She is warm and friendly and very, very chatty, to the point where I find it very difficult under normal circumstances to extricate myself from conversations with her and get back to work.

    About 3 months ago, I was assigned a new project that is currently hugely impacting my workload. It won’t be like this forever, but right now, I am desperately trying to keep my head above water. Every day feels like a mad-on sprint, and I don’t have the time or attention span to chat about non-work-related stuff.

    Most of my colleagues understand that I need to be super focused right now, and they are giving me the space I need. This colleague is doing the exact opposite, and it seems like the more I give her the brief and polite “need to stay on track” comments, the more she tries to lean in and engage in small talk. Although I’ve tried to explain my need nicely and politely, I know I’ve hurt her feelings when I’ve cut things short. I feel bad, but right now I can’t fit in another long conversation. When my role in this project winds down, I will touch base with a summary apology.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      You do not need to apologize. You have made it clear that you need to focus and that you are swamped right now. She needs to respect your boundaries. And honestly, an apology would suggest you were wrong for establishing a needed boundary to accomplish the work (cause that is where you are … at work), while also implying she was not wrong for pushing the boundary and then acting all hurt over it. If you want to resume friendly chats with her after this project is done, stop by her desk after and say something like “Oh wow, I finally got done with Project X. I thought it was going to kill me! I have been so swamped I haven’t even been able to chat with anyone in months! How are you doing?” She will either happily start conversing again, or act short with you. If the latter, then that’s her problem!

      Of course, you could also just ignore it entirely and enjoy knowing you do not have to continue trying so hard to extricate yourself from conversations even once your workload improves!

    2. Another Zoe*

      I might be Zoe at work for similar reasons too. A coworker at my new job is very nice, but she likes to engage in long, repetitive, rambling small-talk conversations multiple times a day. It was stressful to have her interrupting me for long periods as I tried to keep up with my work. I started telling her I was busy and couldn’t talk at the moment, but she’d keep talking. So now I’m just less responsive when she comes over to chat when I’m busy. (“What did you do this weekend?” “Nothing interesting.” Etc.) She interrupts me less, so I guess it’s helping, but she probably thinks I’m being less friendly.

  29. Former Young Lady*

    When I’ve put people on what they call “medium chill,” it has always been in response to a boundary violation of some kind — usually one egregious enough to make me doubt the other person’s judgment in other matters, and to fear for my personal safety.

    In the pandemic age, this could indeed be something as simple as letting your mask slip off your nose, being careless about physical distancing, or expressing opinions fueled by disinformation. Plague worries aside, it might be bigoted remarks or off-color jokes, touching people unnecessarily, bending their ears with unwanted chitchat, or any other signals that you feel entitled to a higher degree of intimacy than you’ve earned.

    Or it can be something strictly work-related. Early in my career, a friendly coworker suddenly put me on “medium chill.” It took me ages to realize why: my laziness and sloppy work were creating headaches for her.

    The thing about violating boundaries is, the more grave the violation, the less people will dare to point it out to you, because you’ve already demonstrated that you don’t respect norms, so there’s no telling how you’ll take constructive feedback. What they will do is distance themselves from you, out of self-preservation.

    OP, I can’t possibly know if this is what happened, but it’s worth asking yourself if any of the above resonates with you.

  30. Disco Janet*

    It could literally have nothing to do with you. I was temping at a place a million years ago (in my younger days) and was chatty with the temp worker who sat right next to me. One day another temp who sat across the room from us suggested I had a crush on the next-to-me-temp .It made me so flustered (because I didn’t have a crush on said temp), that I just stopped talking to him for like two weeks. I didn’t like the idea of being something people were gossiping about.

    People do weird things all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with what you expect.

  31. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    I once read a piece of advice that really changed my perspective on things like this … no one is required to like you and no one owes you an explanation for it.

    Now, that came with a lot of disclaiming information – while no one may be required to like you, they still need to treat you and others with courtesy and respect, and vice versa, especially in the workplace. But they don’t have to be your friend, and you don’t need to be friends with anyone you do not particularly like either. Sometimes people just don’t like each other. But if everyone acts professionally and treats one another with mutual respect, that is fine.

    For me, this was a freeing perspective because I used to be so upset when someone did not particularly like me (and if it is a manager, then you do need to worry about whether it will impact the way you get evaluated or what projects you get, but the ideal manager will focus on your performance, not her personal liking or disliking of you). But the idea that not everyone is required to like me, and that I in turn am not required to like everyone else … it took the personal out of it in my work relationships. At the time, I was dealing with a manager who was perfectly good at her job, but I could tell she did not like me. I also realized I did not much like her. We just had very different personalities. But I came to appreciate how hard she tried to keep her dislike of me out of her management of me, and I used the opportunity to develop my own skills at keeping my own personal feelings about her or her dislike of me out of my end of the equation. It wasn’t easy, but it was a good learning experience.

    Later, in another work environment, I encountered a coworker who I felt was very brash and abrasive, so I made a decision to distance myself, while remaining professional and polite. If she asked a question or needed help, I answered and assisted as diligently and helpfully as I would with any other coworker. But if she started to complain in a way that suggested she wanted us to complain together and bond over the shared annoyance of some aspect of the job, I just did not take the bait. She always felt comfortable asking my assistance, but she sure did a better job of maintaining appropriate boundaries with me than anyone else in my office!

  32. Echo*

    I couldn’t help but notice that Zoe’s behavior is almost exactly what Alison recommends to someone trying to get over an inappropriate work crush. This is probably not a likely interpretation, but I’m tickled by the possibility that Zoe has a crush on OP!

  33. I need a nap... or more coffee.*

    This happened to me with a coworker awhile back. We were quite close, lived near each other, hung out outside of work, etc. However, I eventually came to realize that our bond was primarily built on lots of complaining about work (projects, people, etc.) and personal issues. For my own sanity, I needed to stop engaging in the constant negativity.

    I don’t even remember what I said – probably some kind of neutral response/weak defense to a complaint about someone (I’m not a confrontational person), but once my coworker realized that I was not going to play the complain game anymore, they froze me out. Not entirely – but knowing them as well as I did, I knew when I began getting responses to polite overtures in their special fake-nice tone of voice that they used with coworkers they disliked… well, I got the hint.

    TL;DR: sometimes people will pull back on friendship if it’s built on negativity and you try to curb your complaining habits. *shrug*

  34. Delphine*

    Freezing a colleague out, pointedly treating them differently from other coworkers…I hate this type of behavior. It’s not just that it’s immature and passive-aggressive. It’s that these are tactics that really mess with people’s heads, even if you don’t intend them to, even if they occur only once or twice. There’s a reason emotional abusers use them. (I’m not saying that Zoe is emotionally abusive.)

    These tactics are unprofessional, primarily because people don’t know how to redraw boundaries without making people feel targeted. Zoe changing her tone/expression whenever OP speaks is a good example. That’s not okay.

    If I were in your shoes, I would ask if I had done something to offend Zoe. It would be important for my peace of mind.

    I’m a little disappointed by the wild speculation in the comments, since the OP only asked for advice about what she should do, and didn’t ask for people to guess why she’s being treated this way. It implies that the OP somehow deserves Zoe’s behavior when we have no evidence to suggest that’s the case.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Bingo. The tendency to find reasons for other people’s bad behavior is strange to me. I understand that humans want to make sens of the ….unsensable? (Submitting that to Merriam Webster after I post this). But it ends up implying that you did something to bring this on.

      The question is how to deal with Zoe’s unprofessional behavior. Absolutely none of us can decipher why she’s acting that way, so the next step is to try to determine how to handle it.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        OP specifically says that Zoe is remaining professional. She is not being as friendly as before, but OP said Zoe was fine in a professional capacity and just did not seem to want to interact outside of work related matters. That’s perfectly fine. The only off part is that it is a sudden change from the earlier dynamic, but it’s ok to reassert boundaries at any time. At worst, Zoe is executing it poorly by letting the strain show in the interaction a little more than she intends. But taking OP’s account at her word, I do not think we can say that Zoe’s behavior is unprofessional at this point.

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      OP says that Zoe is remaining professional, and she is talking to her when the situation calls for it. I am not sure that she is being pointed or passive aggressive. I think Zoe is at best showing some discomfort. It does not sound like she is doing anything very aggressive. As long as Zoe is being professional and respectful, she does not need to be friends with OP or act like they have a warmer relationship than they have or encourage a warmer relationship than she wants.

    3. techwriter*

      >>the OP only asked for advice about what she should do

      On a side note, I don’t think we know or can assume the LW is a woman.

  35. Dashed*

    I once had a similar experience. Cold Shoulder Coworker finally brought it up herself — she thought she had heard me say something derogatory about her to another coworker. In fact, CSC had misheard what I said. She refused to believe me nor would she believe the other coworker when she confronted her as well. At that point, there was nothing I could do about it. She was either going to get over it or die mad. Apparently, she is choosing to die mad because I saw her and her family about 10 years later in an airport and while the family was friendly to me, she pointedly turned her back on me. She also changed her seat at the gate so she was not facing me. TEN years later! Okay, then. Stay angry. Your choice.

  36. KathyW*

    Specifically pandemic related possibility for LW 1 – my husband recently left a job due to a number of factors, including his unhappiness with their covid response. Several of his coworkers began to “freeze” him a bit, including one that he told me stopped saying hello to him in the morning. He very strictly followed the office covid rules and missed out on quite a bit of socializing due to that, and from what he could tell, some of his coworkers seemed to interpret this as a slight towards them and acted accordingly.

  37. Lana Kane*

    Bingo. The tendency to find reasons for other people’s bad behavior is strange to me. I understand that humans want to make sens of the ….unsensable? (Submitting that to Merriam Webster after I post this). But it ends up implying that you did something to bring this on.

    The question is how to deal with Zoe’s unprofessional behavior. Absolutely none of us can decipher why she’s acting that way, so the next step is to try to determine how to handle it.

    1. Despachito*

      Wait.. but according to LW, Zoe is not acting unprofesionally. She continues to be is polite, she just stopped being friendly. Which I perfectly understand can be hurtful but I doubt it is reproachable.

      I am torn on this one. On the one hand, you could ask her something along the line “I have an impression that I might inadvertently have upset you, if so, I definitely did not mean to. Is there something you`d prefer me to do differently? ”

      But if you ask this, you must be prepared that her answer might be something easily solvable, but also something unpleasant to hear, and sometimes even something hurtful which you will be unable to change. Would you still want to risk asking the question? (I am not suggesting either way, just asking)

      And if the problem is that your personalities just do not mesh, or you are doing something what irritates her but is nothing to be confronted about, the question will be awkward for her. I once distanced myself from a friend after several years of hearing her incessant complaints but I never confronted her about it – I would feel super awkward and my impression was that it was her inherent characteristics, so mentioning it would mean confrontation but no real solution, and I felt just tired and done with her.

      Of course, in such a case, she could come up with some bland “explanation-non explanation” to save herself the confrontation, and continue to give you the could shoulder.

      I liked the solution someone suggested – ask her if you are prepared to hear her answer, or do not ask, but in any case do not insist and respect her boundaries. After all, she owes you professionality, not friendliness, and I understand she remained professional, albeit colder.

      But my heart goes to you LW, it definitely sucks.

    2. Tess*

      “The question is how to deal with Zoe’s unprofessional behavior. Absolutely none of us can decipher why she’s acting that way, so the next step is to try to determine how to handle it.”

      Yep. Precisely.

      1. Despachito*

        But the LW does not say she acts unprofessional, just the opposite (“She’s fine in a professional capacity. It just seems like she would prefer not to interact with me outside of work-related exchanges.”)

  38. MissFinance*

    I had this happen at my first job out of college. Only more to an extreme. The woman who sat next to me was super nice and friendly. She then suddenly flipped a switch and went out of her way to sabatoge me. She told me boss I was on FB all day instead of doing my job. My boss freaked out, but thankfully my grandboss stepped in and called out her BS. He moved my desk so I wasn’t near her. I later found out she was stressed and hated her job, and I chalked it up to her being upset that I had less work than she did, which wasn’t my fault.

  39. Spicy Tuna*

    It could have nothing to do with you… years ago, I had a boss that would randomly get super cold if he was having stress in his personal life. One day, he totally snapped at me for no reason (he later apologized). Turned out, his dad had reached the end of the line with cancer treatment. Similar thing happened when he had to let someone in our group go.

    OTOH, there could be something totally innocuous you are doing that rubs your colleague the wrong way. I used to work with a woman whose voice irritated me beyond belief. She sat right outside of my office door. I ended up having to work all day with my door closed because her voice drove me insane. Not her fault at all! But I still needed to get work done.

  40. New Mom*

    A lot of good insight in the comments here. Like a lot of people have said, sometimes coworkers change and as long as she is still being professional with you, I’d let it go.

    From my own job, I work at a nonprofit that has staff from all walks of life, and the pandemic has really elevated the disparities of our lives. Some of my coworkers are very wealthy and were able to fly to vacation homes to quarantine in luxury while another coworker ended up having to leave a studio apartment to move back in with roommates because they couldn’t afford it with our pay cuts. Some coworkers have had a 13-month struggle with childcare, where other coworkers have had live-in nannies or kids in private school/family support the whole time. I’ve definitely noticed people showing up different socially, but not professionally and it’s not really something that can be worked out.

    I’m not saying that Zoe resents you for any reason, but her reasoning for being socially distant (while still being professional) don’t really need to be addressed, and it might not even be something that you could solve.

  41. Kim*

    It really might have nothing to do with you. I once had a co-worker tell me something personal about another colleague- unprompted, and which I did not ever repeat. Somehow this person found out I knew and from that point on they were a misery to work with – she refused to deal with me to the point management had to be brought in. To this day I don’t understand her response.

  42. Research Admin*

    People can just be weird! I had it happen once. We got along fine and then, suddenly, one morning I walked in and B was absolutely awful from then on (hateful looks, passive aggressive remarks, just meanness). Being young at the time, I sucked it up and just went about my business and was as pleasant as possible. Honestly, for a while I thought it was a bad day or I was imaging things. When things really blew up, my admin reassured me that she had been aware and keeping an eye on things, and it was definitely happening and definitely not my fault (whew! I was really wondering what I had done!). She took it to our boss who had a chat with B’s boss and that settled things until my group moved offices a few months later.

    Near as I and admin could figure, she was having a hard time in her job, didn’t like her boss, and had been denied a raise–and decided that I was too happy and too well paid in my job–helped by lengthy smoke breaks with a woman down the hall who was happy to encourage her rants. The irony, of course, is that my job had been open for over a year–she could have applied for it at any time. She just never did. She did, however, quit in a snit a few months later after she was put on a PIP.

  43. Tussy*

    OP don’t take the first option. I had long term a co-worker who I worked with for years who has gotten cold towards other co-workers that we had. One of them just left her alone (although did mention to me that she was sad because she didn’t know why – she didn’t ask if I knew though which I appreciated as I had an idea it was because of her work ethic and slacking off but wasn’t sure) and the other one asked her why and made her more annoyed because then it just caused a whole lot of drama and the entire reason she went cold was because she was tired of the other one complaining and being needy all the time and this was just more of the same. Bringing it to the open just made it worse and awkward for everyone because it definitely didn’t fix the problem or endear the co-worker to my cold co-worker.

    If someone wants to stop talking to you it’s sucks but it’s clearly not something they want to raise with you. You just have to move on unfortunately or you could make it worse.

  44. Marillenbaum*

    I’m sorry, OP. That seems like it would be baffling, and possibly even upsetting. Even though Zoe is remaining professional (good!), it can be really weird to have someone change the way they interact with you, even though it is their right. I think Alison is right here–you can ask once if there is an issue for which you bear responsibility. It may be the case, or not; even if it is, she may not tell you. Regardless, following Zoe’s lead on the level of warmth is the right call, as is talking to your non-work friends about it, because you have totally reasonable emotional reactions to this thing happening that you don’t understand.

  45. teapot analytics manager*

    I had someone pull a Zoe on me once because a VP decided I was gay (without any input from me, needless to say!), told everyone in our division behind my back and it turned out Zoe was a homophobe.

    I was very sad in a way because her behavior made it impossible for me to socialize with our team because her behavior was SO COLD whenever I tried to speak, but also she was a homophobe so I didn’t want to be her friend, either!

    I ended up having to leave the company because it was so awkward, I hope that doesn’t happen to the OP.

  46. Me*

    I had a colleague who made a gross sexually tinged joke at my expense. I was no longer interested in being anything more than professionally polite. And I sure a shizz didn’t own him an explanation of why.

    The only things you can do is ask or examine your own behavior for clues. Even if you ask there’s no guarantee of a satisfactory response.

  47. AB*

    I was definitely Zoe in the later half of 2020 this year to a colleague on my team at work. Several of my coworkers and I are members of the LGBTQ+ community and have talked a fair amount in front of her about our distress over rulings and things 45 said and encouraged in his policy. We’ve talked about ways we’ve experienced homophobia/transphobia, and this colleague even saw a few of us get harassed by a new hire who was a cis, heterosexual woman. We welcomed her into our group very warmly and had a very good relationship with her.

    It was a slap in the face to learn she voted for Trump this time because of how she felt he handled the economy. For me, the best move for my upset was cold aloofness so I wasn’t thinking semi murderous thoughts about feeling betrayed by her political choice that she was very much entitled to make, but certainly hurt a lot of her coworkers.

    It sucks to suddenly have that, but cold aloofness is an acceptable choice as long as it’s not impeding your ability to do your work. If it is, then you have some room to talk to your boss. Until then, perhaps just wait it out and accept this might not be a work friend you get to keep.

  48. wallaby4*

    I understand why the LW is concerned they did something wrong, but, if Zoe is being polite and professional, and there are no work-related problems happening, perhaps it’s just best to let this go? “Polite” and “professional” sounds like a functioning working relationship to me, even if the LW is bummed at the loss of a more familiar rapport.

  49. Beatrice*

    I once chilled out on a professional relationship because my coworker strongly reminded me of a friend in my personal life, and the friendship was ending messily. My coworker and my former friend resembled each other and also had some similar mannerisms, it was uncanny. I was thoroughly disgusted with my former friend at the time, and I had difficulty being warm and social with my coworker as a result. My coworker wasn’t the easiest person to work with either, which is why I justified allowing the friend situation to affect my work relationship, instead of trying to fix my attitude toward my coworker. And I was professional and courteous, just not more friendly than necessary.

  50. WantonSeedStitch*

    This reminds me of my sophomore year at college. I was assigned to a room with a roommate who was a junior, someone I didn’t know. She and I hit it off right away, and were very friendly, hanging out and going out to clubs together, talking into the wee hours, etc. It was great! Then at some point, I forget when, she became incredibly cold to me, and only spoke to me if she had a problem or if someone had called for me, or something. I was absolutely mystified about what happened, since we had never had a falling out of any kind to my knowledge (and I felt pretty sure I wasn’t socially oblivious enough to have missed one). We’d also talked and shared enough about ourselves prior to this that I think any big differences in values (political, religious, etc.) would have come up.

  51. Yessica Haircut*

    Oh, man. This takes me back. Years ago, in my first professional job out of college, my very warm and friendly coworker took me under her wing, showed me the ropes, and even invited me and my SO to parties that she and her partner threw at their home. Then, after a couple of months on the job, a switch flipped and she started freezing me out: not answering my “good morning”s, giving me the silent treatment, and saying things to her favorite coworker in front of me that seemed to be veiled digs at me. I was so confused and devastated that I would occasionally sneak off to cry in the bathroom. This was all compounded by the fact that I had moved to a strange city for the job where I knew no one, and that I was very, very young. (I graduated college at 21.) She then sent me a nice LinkedIn message a few years later when I was transitioning to a new job, and I was just completely bbaffled by the whole thing.

    In retrospect a decade later, I’m pretty sure the problem was that my boss (who sat in a different space and, while a very nice person, could be a bit frazzled) had given me a very time-consuming off-site assignment but never communicated that to the team, so I’m guessing people assumed I was randomly blowing off work and disappearing. No one else ever had off-site assignments, so no one would have assumed that’s what I was doing. It’s almost funny to think about all these years later, but at the time, it was a major source of stress and anxiety.

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