Reputation will stick with you more closely in a workplace setting. If I get the reputation as being difficult to work with then advancing or moving laterally in my organization will be extremely unlikely.

Over the past summer, I had shown an intern on my team, who had similar interests as myself, a few of my favorite spots in my area where these interests are celebrated. He seemed like an interesting person and I wanted to show him some of the better attractions in my area while he was visiting.

As time passed, and we continued to interact, it slowly became obvious through his actions and comments that he is not a person I want to associate with in a personal setting.

At the end of his internship he went back to his university and it seemed he would turn down the offer my company had given him. He has now instead accepted this offer.

I have changed teams recently but still work in the same building. I would like to end our personal relationship with the least amount of damage possible to the professional relationship and my career as a whole, but I do not know how to go about doing this.

  • 2
    This isn't really about the workplace. I don't think the answer would be any different if you hadn't been working together. Sep 3, 2013 at 20:07
  • 36
    @DJClayworth Befriend a coworker, try to no longer be their friend, and then try to maintain a professional relationship without there being sour or hurt feelings that affect your working relationship. Trust me, this definitely differs from just not being friends with someone outside of work and there are many things affected in the workplace that one needs to take into consideration in order to maintain professionalism
    – user5305
    Sep 3, 2013 at 21:05
  • 11
    This has been researched before. Simon (1975) demonstrated 50 feasible ways to accomplish what the OP asks for. Sep 4, 2013 at 6:48
  • 2
    Relationships are an integral part of the workplace. I have had people who while I needed to retain a friendly working relationship I did not appreciate their attempts move that beyond the workplace. This is squarely on topic for why TWP was created in the first place. Sep 4, 2013 at 13:32
  • 1
    comments removed - Please remember comments are intended to improve a post or seek clarification. For extended discussions, please use The Workplace Chat. Also, please see The Workplace Meta for meta discussions.
    – jmort253
    Sep 10, 2013 at 3:41

3 Answers 3


Don't be available for anything personal/social.

  • If asked if you can go out to some function - you have a prior engagement.
  • Watercooler moment? There is something urgent for you to do.
  • Lunchtime? Can't today.
  • etc...

After a while, if this person doesn't get the hint, since you no longer socialize, they will stop trying.

I can't see how this could impact your professional career if you simply stop the social interactions with a former intern (current junior - I am assuming).

  • @Downvoter - care to comment?
    – Oded
    Sep 4, 2013 at 11:48
  • 1
    I didn't down vote, but I can see a pitfall to this strategy because many workplaces encourage water cooler moments for discussing problems and collaborating. Since the poster said they will be working on different teams, this probably isn't too much of an issue, but if for whatever reason they do work on the same team in the future, the interactions could require more subtlety and diplomacy so as not to discourage teamwork or collaboration. Sep 4, 2013 at 14:35
  • 6
    @DavidKaczynski In that case wouldn't the strategy just be "only talk about work"?
    – Nicole
    Sep 4, 2013 at 17:02
  • 3
    @NickC That would be desirable, but there's nothing to stop the former intern from asking what they did last weekend or other attempts at socialization. The original poster could say something to the effect of "look, let's try to keep the conversations limited to work," but I see that entirely different from Oded's non-confrontational strategy. Sep 4, 2013 at 23:38

I would like to end our personal relationship with the least amount of damage possible to the professional relationship and my career as a whole, but I do not know how to go about doing this.

First, you might be overestimating the level of perceived friendship and this entire situation is much easier than you think. You will be working on different teams in the future. Those personal events will be much more deliberate than spontaneous.

Second, there are ways to do even more than what Oded suggests. If your primary desire is to avoid personal settings, shift all interactions into workplace settings when you cannot simply refuse them.

  • "Hey want to go out for some drinks this weekend?"
  • "That won't work for me, do you want to get lunch sometime next week instead?"

This diffuses the out of work situation very deftly. It also pushes your time off into the future which further distances you from the previous intern. The goal is to distance yourself.

Also don't friend them on Facebook. Bad things happen when you friend coworkers.

Third, I would caution you against an abrupt "go away" attitude (especially being that direct) like suggested here. This could cause you all sorts of problems if/when the new employee brings that up in social conversation at work.


How do you break off a relationship with a Facebook friend?

By slowly decreasing your communication with them.

How do you break off a relationship with a classmate?
How do you break off a relationship with a next door neighbor?

By remaining cordial but not too chatty when you see them in the halls or over the fence.

How do you break off a relationship with a teammate?

By continuing to practice hard and remaining committed to winning games as a team, but largely avoiding said teammate outside of the arena.

So to answer your question:

How do you break off a friendship with a coworker?

In light of the fact that you are equally a socially networked friend, a student of the business domain, a workplace neighbor, and a workplace teammate...

Do all of the above.

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