I was recently promoted to team leader, and I have several colleagues that I'm close, and some I would consider friends. I have two colleagues that I would like to distance myself from for various reasons.

A while back one of them was monitoring my cycling runs via an app we were sharing and he was reporting to my manager that instead of working I was cycling. Another one is extremely racist and misogynistic, to the point that, even if I wasn't the target,I felt so disgusted that I had to report him to HR.

Both are mostly tolerated by the rest of the team. However, since I'm now the team lead, they both try to connect with me in various ways and they have pointed out that I'm friends with other colleagues but not with them.

How do I tactfully tell them that I'm not interested on interacting with them outside work?

To clarify, I would like to tell them to stop trying. I'm pretty sure that they know by now that I don't want to interact with them, but they continue to ask or find creative ways to butt in, creating awkward or sensitive situations.

I have been coworkers with some of the colleagues that I'm close/friends with through several companies. One of them was my lead at least twice. I didn't play any favorites.

  • 3
    Why do you feel the need to say anything in particular? Just decline any invitations they give you and they'll almost certainly get the hint. Apr 24, 2022 at 10:39
  • 1
    @PhilipKendall, I'm pretty sure that they got the memo, but they are ignoring it. Apr 24, 2022 at 12:25
  • Sorry if you just got a bunch of weird notifications. Had a strange problem with my edit description. It would have been useful to know exactly how you have been wording your rejections up until this point.
    – BSMP
    Apr 25, 2022 at 3:01
  • 1
    Where does the need for tact come from?
    – gnasher729
    Apr 25, 2022 at 13:22

2 Answers 2


"No, thank you."

Start with "no", but remain polite by adding "thank you". Bonus points if you smile while saying it.

Bike ride? No, thank you. Pub? No, thank you. Sports match? No, thank you. Beer and pretzels? No, thank you.

They may ask why. Depending on circumstances you may be able to say "I can't", but sometimes if they know you can they'd know that was a lie, so you may have to say "I don't want to". If they again ask why: "I just don't want to". Don't get drawn into a conversation or negotiation. You don't owe them an explanation, and after enough "no, thank you"s they will stop asking.

The reason that, in your case, this might get trickier, is that you are friends with others who you lead in your team. That's something to be cautious about at the best of times - as a team lead, you may one day have to tell someone that their work has not been acceptable... or you may even have to fire them. That's not to say you must never be friends with people at work - we're not robots - but it's something that could put a real strain on the friendship. Even worse, and coming back to your situation here, if you are friends with some of the people you lead but not others, you are at risk of being exposed to accusations of nepotism. You recommend one of your friends for a promotion, while someone you are saying "no, thank you" to is overlooked? Well obviously, they may conclude, you only did that for them because they are your friend! That's discrimination! Or so they may say, even if you know your friend really does deserve it.

Ideally, a team leader should be "friendly but not friends" with all of their staff, equally - that is, engage with them in a genial and agreeable manner, but keep a professional distance. This isn't always easy or straightforward, and there are often blurred lines and shades of grey, but if you can't or won't avoid those friendships entirely, at least be cautious.

In fact, with my workplace hat on, I'd state flat out: don't have friendships with people who work for you. But with my human being hat on, I know I've broken my own rule on that in the past, so I have to acknowledge it's not that simple.

  • Great answer, but I didn't formulate the question well enough. I'm already politely refusing their attempts, and I have restricted my interactions with my friends "at work" (since I'm mostly remote, that means over work public channels). I agree with the "friendly but not friends" approach, but as I said in my second edit, some of my colleagues I know from outside work and for a long time. Apr 24, 2022 at 12:24
  • So you're politely saying no, and they're still asking? I don't think that changes the question. Keep politely saying no. Apr 24, 2022 at 17:45

If it suits the situation, it may be easy to just say that certain connections are part of your own social circle outside work, and have also been grandfathered in from before you became the team lead.

It may also be a possibility to point out that their exclusion has also been grandfathered, if their tenure extends prior to your promotion - to declare that you weren't that close when you were peers, and that hasn't changed.

It would be best not to connect online with any new subordinates simply according to your opinion of them in work, unless you are prepared to declare what policy you are operating and are sure that operating and announcing such a policy would be consistent with your role at work.

If there's a desire to rebuff an attempted social friendship outside of work (not merely an online connection), it may suffice to say something like "Joe, at work your work is great, but I'm not sure you'd get on with my friends", or "...but we're very different characters".

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