Written by The Honest Boss
How do you deal with an over-familiar colleague who wants to connect outside of work? The Honest Boss weighs in.
“I’ve been actively avoiding one particularly over-familiar colleague from connecting with me on social media, but she recently brought up the fact that I haven’t accepted her friend requests when I have done for other people in the office. How do I maintain my boundaries without causing an awkward rift?”
The wonderful thing about being an adult in today’s world is that you are completely free to decide who you choose to befriend on social media. It seems your over-familiar colleague is being insensitive to your desire for privacy. How we navigate our social media is exactly how we manage our social lives IRL. In effect, this means we make our own calls regarding our social interactions and we discriminate how much and to whom we reveal our more intimate selves.
Most of us compartmentalise our social calendar accordingly: separate dates for different friendship groups, rarely mixing work colleagues with college mates and so on. Social media operates in exactly the same way, which is why we sometimes set up separate accounts for the various groups in our lives. It’s become the acceptable way of managing our lifestyle and staying within our boundaries.
The fact that you have become closer to other colleagues in work than you are to Ms Pushy is entirely within your purview. She really needs to understand that nudging you constantly is not the way to gain your trust. Or your friendship. You have done the polite thing so far by simply ignoring her requests but she is clearly refusing to take the hint and is trying her best to mow down your carefully erected borders. Emotional intelligence is seemingly not her strong suit. It feels as though you need to take a more direct approach.
You can continue to ignore the requests, but next time she mentions your preference for other colleagues, simply explain how you have become friends outside of work with only a select few. You could say something like: “My social media accounts are really for my friends and family, and I like to keep them separate from my professional life, apart from those with whom I happen to be friends outside of work. I am sure you understand.”
This approach is polite but firm. It’s possible, of course, that Ms Pushy will take offence at being brushed-off in this way, but her attempts to invade your personal space have forced your hand. Her lack of sensitivity so far would indicate to me that she could easily cause trouble for you if you allowed her to roam your private messaging.
It’s always wise to maintain a sceptical approach with anyone until you trust them enough to share your personal exchanges. We all have an informal way of being with friends and family and it’s easy to imagine an in-joke becoming misinterpreted by someone who only knows you professionally. Try to imagine an inappropriate image or banter exchange getting shared with the wrong people. Let’s face it, none of us wants our bikini or party shots getting pored over by someone we barely know at work.
A final note of caution: because our digital footprint can live forever, it’s important that we are vigilant about who we allow into our lives via social media. You have the right idea about boundaries at work and your attitude to an uninvited guest such as Ms Pushy is understandable. If you want to soften your stance somewhat, then you could always consider saying something like: “I am happy to connect with you on LinkedIn.” Unless she’s really being obtuse, that should shut down the conversation for once and for all.
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