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I started a new job as a software developer at a small (~50 people) company in October, and my new project manager (boss) started a month after I did. He's the outgoing, touchy-feely type; I can't read people very well and have personal space issues, so he makes me mildly uncomfortable, but I can live with it in a work context.

Since this company is rather small, everybody is friends with everybody and it's generally fairly social and fun, but I prefer to keep my work and personal lives separate.

My problem is that he seems to be trying really hard to be friends beyond work: showing me pictures of his family events, asking about my home life, messaging me outside of work hours, etc. I don't want to be friends with him, for multiple reasons.

  • I think it's unprofessional and opens up all sorts of potential for ambiguity and misunderstandings.
  • I tend to put foot in mouth a lot and I don't want to make awkward a situation I have to spend every workday in.
  • I don't like him and I already feel uneasy around him.

Possible courses of action include:

  • Indulging him despite my better judgement and see if we can be friends
  • Approaching him with honesty and risk making things weird
  • Being subtle about it (e.g. giving generic non-answers, changing the subject back to work, specifically not reciprocating) and hoping he gets the message

Which would make the most sense?

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    I would avoid stating that you don't want to become friends specifically because of past experiences as it shows you're being a bit insecure and weary because of past experiences (you have the right to but try to avoid it as it might make him feel like you don't trust him). – Twyxz Dec 3 '18 at 12:37
  • In my experience, it is perfectly acceptable in smaller companies like yours, but perhaps it depends on the country (e.g. a friend of mine from the UK supports the "colleagues are not your friends" approach). Your concern is legitimate, but I'm not sure what to suggest as I can't relate to it (my boss is a super cool person and I'd love to be more friendly with him :) ). – Pandora Dec 3 '18 at 12:43
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    How would your boss react to you not responding to his messages outside work hours, instead waiting until you see him in the office to respond to whatever he sent? – user34587 Dec 3 '18 at 12:45
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    First question for the messaging out of hours and touch-feely type : Are you a man or woman ? This can explain some things. Other than that, you can use social intelligence, state the limits in the right way and give only the piece of information you want to give. It's better to have a good corporate relationship with colleagues as we are humans and they will be more likely to support you in hard times. The idea is really about balance and be clear on the separation between work and personal life. You can't be blamed for not wanting to share personal things. – Answers_Seeker Dec 3 '18 at 12:50
  • @Answers_Seeker I can guess where you're going with your question but I don't think my answer matters either way; there's no sexual harassment going on as far as I can tell because he's outgoing with everyone, not just me. – AwkwardSpoon Dec 3 '18 at 13:00
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Continue what you are doing. e.g. be professional but distant.

He may try to be your friend but friendship is a mutual thing so by not responding you won't allow it to grow beyond the professional.

If he bothers you or explicitly asks why you keep your distance you can tell him about your "no friends at work" policy. Don't expand further or apologize (beyond the regular noncomittal sorry), just state the rule.

Hopefully he will be socially capable enough to realize that you want to keep your distance without more prompting.

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Should I be subtle about it (e.g. give generic non-answers, change the subject back to work, specifically not reciprocate) and hope he gets the message?

I say start here. However, the reality is there is no "good" to this situation. It's more than just him being your boss, but it's also a question of essentially telling another human being you reject them. Which is, harsh. However, it's just the reality of things.

Personally, I would do the subtle approach and just "honest", I quote honest because the response would give is sort of a generalized response.

Something like "Look, John, I know you mean well. But, I just don't have the time for friends right now. I need you to understand that friends aren't my priority right now, my work is. You're awesome, but I just can't commit to friendships right now."

In fact I HAVE done this with colleagues, only after the subtle stuff didn't work. I usually frame it in the "This isn't a valuable exchange for you if you expect me to be your friend." context. Because it's true. The key to this, in my view, is not hurting their feelings.

For me, them being a manager is a secondary thing... if you're both professionals you'll get over it. It's more about not rejecting someone without hurting them.

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