How to Say Farewell to a Coworker  Without Looking Bad

When it’s time to move forward in your career, there are certain relationships that you must end and some you must form. While some particular people at your current or soon-to-be-previous job are great, they may have no purpose in your present or next phase. On the other hand, if some friendships in the office have developed into a major source of drama, additional emotional stress, or professional stagnancy, they aren’t good for you or your career. You need to be able to let them go without hurting their feelings or looking terrible. When you’ve worked at a single place for a while, there’s a tendency for your coworkers to grow on you. This is natural. Your conversations may have developed to include subjects far beyond reports and deadlines. Yet their problems cannot be your problems, and their dependency on you either as a professional crutch or as a personal punching bag limits your abilities and professional capacities. When relationships with coworkers both in and out of the office space are no longer productive or practical, then it’s time to walk away from them. Perhaps you are preparing to go ‘up the ladder’, perhaps your ideals, goals, and priorities no longer align, or perhaps you are just sick and tired of annoying, unhealthy, or unending drama. Whatever the real motivations are, you can bring a graceful end to the relationship without making your coworker feel abandoned or you appearing rude. Here’s how:

Plan Ahead

While regular interactions don’t need to be planned, you need to think about how you intend to say goodbye to your coworker. If you are leaving the job, a little get-together with other coworkers is an easy and relaxed way to happily say farewell. Of course, this depends on the nature of your departure, whether it is amicable, positive, or well-known or not.  

If you truly no longer intend to be associated with a particular coworker any longer at work or after you leave the workplace, you should be careful to avoid promises, indirect inferences, or other comments that could be misinterpreted. Thinking ahead about the conversation is a smart way to avoid uncomfortable or unintended ramblings. Also, preparing a small parting gift is a great way to ease the tension of the conversation and indirectly indicate the relationship has come to a close. 

Show Appreciation

Just as recognizing the efforts of coworkers helps boost their morale and overall productivity, so too will showing appreciation help your coworker come to terms with your decision. Recognizing the wonderful ways in which he/she has helped you in the past can significantly mitigate feelings of being ‘dropped’ without any regard. Kindness shown in appreciating their role or contribution in your success illustrates your character and preserves your image in their mind. It leaves the right final feeling of being acknowledged in their minds, which can give a sense of closure. 

Make Things Clear

After you are situated at the new job or after you’ve put some countermeasures in place at the current one, your coworker might not understand why you’ve been avoiding him/her. You can settle this by simply telling your coworker about your decision to cut ties for the best interests of both of you. Ensure that you don’t sound overly emotional about it – stick to your reasons and conclude the discussion on a positive note. Don’t get sucked into getting peppered with questions or becoming timid because of long apologies. Comments such as “I wish you the best in your endeavors” or “I know you will continue to go far” can go a long way in sending a cordial signal that you don’t intend to be a part of their lives but that you hope the best for him/her. 

Set Boundaries

There’s no point in stopping a relationship if you don’t behave differently. For starters, you must establish certain boundaries that will reduce the level of interaction you have with the coworker you’ve either already broken ties with or are planning to break ties with. Some relationships need to be disconnected more slowly. Boundaries such as restricting access to your office space, maintaining a businesslike outlook at all times, and turning down unnecessary and informal requests are all ways you can begin to set important limitations. You must be proactive in self-preservation. Believe me, actions such as these will pass the right message to your coworker, and you’ll gradually see changes.

Fade Out

Some offices may be quite small, so you constantly encounter your coworkers, making it impossible for you to avoid seeing or interacting with the coworker you wish to detach yourself from. However, you can minimize your interactions. Rather than engaging with the coworker on a one-on-one basis, reduce your conversations to strictly business talks and general interaction with others present. Don’t respond to complaints, personal stories, or otherwise irrelevant rants. Ignore them. Responding gives the message you are interested and/or want to help. 

Gradually reduce your conversations at the office and cut all forms of conversation outside the office. You need to be consistent with this and not fall into old habits. When you do, your coworker is bound to give you the space you require.

Find a New Department or Job

If you’re not actually leaving the company but know it’s time to stop a toxic or unproductive relationship with a coworker, you may need to make some drastic changes. Securing another position within the company on a different team, department, or physical location is an obvious means of curbing interaction simply by proximity. If absolutely needed, you can make your underlying reasons known to superiors about your desire to switch things up. If so, keep any explanations short and to the point—don’t tell superiors anymore than they absolutely need to know. You don’t want an entirely new set of problems on your hands. Be classy.  

Things Not To Do When Calling It Quits

While some of your actions depend on what led you to the decision to break off the relationship with your coworker, there are some things you must resist doing regardless. Stay away from undignified approaches to the situation that may ruin your reputation at work. Some of these things include:

Gaslighting

Psychological manipulation is an unfair way to treat anyone. Do not make hurtful remarks intended to make a coworker feel inferior. Compassion is still required. Irrespective of your facts and reasons for ending things, you must be honorable and not speak or act in a way that invalidates the opinions, capacities, and feelings of others. 

Snubbing

Terminating your connection with a coworker doesn’t give you the license to be disrespectful. Simple courtesies must still be maintained in and outside the office. Know where to draw the line in your interactions. Treat the old friend the way you would any acquaintance, no better and no worse. Private and unrelated conversations can be respectfully turned down but ensure you don’t leave basic greetings unanswered. 

Smear Campaigns and Revealing Secrets

If the coworker in question was initially your friend and shared his/her secrets with you based on your relationship, you must keep your integrity. Respect the relationship for what it was and keep secrets like a self-respecting adult. You make yourself look irreparably bad to others when you divulge confidences and engage in petty gossip. In the same vein, avoid the temptation to spread derogatory or harmful rumors. I guarantee that if it does make you feel temporarily better, any satisfying feeling won’t last long. Immature, vindictive, or untrustworthy behavior will inevitably come back to bite you. Don’t compromise your morals or ethics. 

Last Words

When an office relationship is no longer productive or it threatens your own professional wellbeing, it’s time to let it go. Regardless of your reasons, ensure you walk the honorable route and maintain your principles at all times. While your friendship may be over, the way and manner in which you cut ties will determine if you are fondly remembered or hostilely sneered. Life is completely unpredictable (and oftentimes ironic), and you can never tell if you will need that relationship in the future. Hence, be graceful in your interactions and in your good-byes.

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