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So I work as a graphic designer and I'm also a very good visual artist. I paint and draw quite well, recently my coworker noticed my talents online and ever since she has become obsessed with the whole idea around me teaching her art...and from the look of things we might have to do this after work hours.

I for one have always been keen not to develop anything that is not a working relationship with my coworkers so everything usually ends at work and we talk very little outside work, I wouldn't even call my coworkers my friends (although my boss reminds us daily about how much of a family we are and I just don't follow). So I feel this art class thing with my colleague might turn out to be something I regret and the whole idea of us getting close doesn't appeal to me.

Am I right to feel this way? Is this ethical? what should I do to maintain the boundary that was there?

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    Are you sure it's actually art lessons they want? Maybe they just want to spend some time with you out of the work place?
    – fdomn-m
    Apr 6 at 15:17
  • Maybe clarify question. "am I right to feel this way" - can you tell yourself how to feel to make so that it can be right or wrong? What about ethical? To become close with a colleague or to reject a request? Apr 7 at 18:17
  • Why do you insist on avoiding friendships with colleagues? In my experience, they're one of the best sources of friends. You already have something in common, since you're working in the same field.
    – Barmar
    Apr 8 at 0:48
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    @Barmar I too avoid workplace friendships - for me it is because I have autism and personal relationships feel overwhelming and all-consuming. I have exactly one friend: my wife, which makes it workable.
    – j4nd3r53n
    Apr 8 at 8:17
  • @j4nd3r53n Indeed, when I first read the post, my initial thought was that the OP sounds like they may be on the spectrum. But I didn't want to succumb to stereotype.
    – Barmar
    Apr 8 at 15:12

6 Answers 6

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Just say that you don't have time outside work to help her and then point her toward any relevant resources (web sites/YouTube channels) that can help her learn.

There's no real downside to spending a few minutes in looking at what she does and offer a little guidance as long as it doesn't take too long.

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    Excellent advice since it does not cause any hard feeling toward the coworker and still means that the OP is helping the coworker in some friendly way. Apr 6 at 8:46
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    This is called "The Art of Polite Deflection" where you can spend a few minutes to be nice and recommend some resources to someone just to polite, but you don't spend lots of time to actually do the work for them. Apr 6 at 12:09
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Teaching is really hard. It is an entirely different skill from making art or whatever else you might be asked to teach. For some people, it's an intriguing thought, and the chance to learn how to teach by trying (and perhaps failing) with a randomly chosen student is appealing. For others, it's not. It sounds like you're in the second group.

Cool, say so. "Teaching isn't one of the things I want to do, sorry." "I don't really know how or why I do what I do and I don't think I can explain it to someone else." "My days are pretty long already and I don't want to do more stuff when work is over." "I don't think so, no." "No thanks." "I think you'll have to find someone else to help you with that." In general, the less information you give in your answer, the less of an argument you'll get (oh no it won't be like that, it will be fun, I could pay you, but it would only be once a week etc etc) but the more likely the person's feelings could be hurt.

If you haven't quite said no yet, but have been changing the subject or saying maybe, now is the time to clear things up. "I've given it some thought and I am not up for taking that on." Optionally, thank the person for their kindness in valuing your work and wanting to learn from you.

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    How did you learn your skills tell her about that, are there any community resources near work or where she lives. Has she told you any thing articulable about your art that she might want to pick up and is that sensible to you?
    – civitas
    Apr 6 at 0:15
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So I feel this art class thing with my colleague might turn out to be something I regret and the whole idea of us getting close doesn't appeal to me.

I am confused here, because now it sounds like you don't mind teaching in your freetime, but the fact that it is a co-worker is the only thing holding you back. If a cousin asked you this favour, would you do it? I think you need to separate the two.

Either:

  1. You agree to teach the coworker against a fee, maintaining essentially a working relationship; or

  2. You decline to do this favour as it would make you connect to this person, which is something you state you do not want. You can give a more socially acceptable answer as the ones suggested in the other answers.

Lastly:

Am I right to feel this way?

You are right to feel this way, because your feelings are valid. If you don't want to do it, say no. Your decisions may have consequences you don't like or want, but the feeling as such is valid. You may inspect what is causing that feeling, whether you like having this feeling of not wanting to get close to others, but this is up to you and no other person can make you change your feeling.

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    +1 - I was going to suggest a paid teaching agreement as a way around the issue - however, then I realised that if the other party does have serious intentions of getting closer to the OP, then a teacher/student relationship still doesn't really prevent that from happening, much to the OP's apparent discomfort. It might even exacerbate the issue... The best (and possibly only) way to avoid it completely is just to say "no", I reckon. Apr 6 at 19:14
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You are being asked a favor. You can say "thanks for the compliment, but no" with or without whatever explanation you want to offer.

As to whether there's anything in it besides wanting instruction, we can't tell you. But that doesn't change the answer unless you want it to. Sometimes pointedly missing the implied point is the most polite response.

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I am a graphic designer. My daughter-in-law is an artist. There isn't much cross-over between us!

..and, that's not uncommon. I've worked in agencies where the artists were truly world class - to the point where I gave up trying art for a few years because I was just not worthy.

All to say; you can tell the coworker that Art is not necessarily something you have skills in, and recommend night classes to her. I don't know about you, but I don't have spare time to teach one person one thing for no reward. Especially someone I work with but have no other relationship.

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    I understood from the question that the asker does have skills in art and their coworker already knows it, having found their work online. Denying having skills in art might not be a good idea. Great points in the rest of the answer though
    – jla
    Apr 6 at 5:04
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Let me answer the last question: "Is this ethical". There are few different answers to this question depending on the exact circumstances. I am also assuming due to asking for ethics, there is a chance for a romantic relationship.

If what she says is what happens, she is just interested in learning, there is absolutely nothing unethical here. Just be sure it is just that, she might be too shy to move forwards or wait for you to escalate. But if it is just for teaching, you probably should be asking compensation. However, asking for compensation might be against company policy, so, be careful.

If she is after spending sometime with you, then you need to check a few things. First, is there anything against coworkers dating in your company[1]. Check this even if it is just being friends, just in case if things escalate or people start to read too much into a friendship. Then check if you are ok with a relationship with her, but be very careful if you are not ok with it. Hurting a coworker is not a good idea. She will not be able to avoid you. Make sure you are clear about being friends only. If everything is fine go ahead. Workplace friendships (romantic or otherwise) are not unethical as long as there is not a clear power imbalance.

[1]: I seriously don't like companies that have strict policies against workplace romance. Work dominates our social lives, especially if you are an introvert, even more so if you moved to another city for work. Basically everyone you know are your coworkers.

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