Sunday, May 28, 2017
Are you still my friend?
Lil and Anne had worked together for almost a decade. After Lil moved on to a new job, the two had stayed in touch and regularly socialized by going out to dinner with other former co-workers of Lil. Together, they attended one another's family weddings, celebrated the births of new children, and mourned the loss of family members.
But several months ago, things changed. Anne also left her job with Lil's former employer.
"At first when we contacted her, Anne would tell us she couldn't make an outing," writes Lil. "That quickly became the norm." Lil and her other former coworkers understood the challenge of trying to find a time on each of their schedules that worked for all of them to get together. Lil was disappointed, but understood.
Then things changed even more. "Anne stopped responding to any of us at all," Lil writes. They continued to invite her, but there was absolutely no response. Nevertheless, they persisted and continued to include her on group emails they shared. But for months, no responses.
Both Lil and her other former co-workers have tried emailing Anne directly or calling her to leave a message on her cellphone, but still no response. Lil says that at first they were worried that something might have happened to Anne. But those concerns were quickly allayed after each of them would occasionally run into one of Anne's extended family members they had met over the years. Anne had been to a family function and all seemed well. Neither Lil nor the other co-workers pressed the family member on why Anne might not be responding to their emails or messages.
"I don't know if we did something to offend Anne," writes Lil, "or if she just decided she wanted to cut ties with anyone connected with her former employer."
Lil still would like to talk with Anne and she occasionally emails her (no response), but she wonders if it's inappropriate for her to continue to try to connect given that Anne has made it pretty clear she has no desire to do so. Lil had all but given up when she received an unsolicited group email that Anne's husband sent out letting friends and extended family know that he and Anne were raising money for a cause they had regularly worked for in the past.
"Clearly, I'm not off of the radar entirely," writes Lil. "Is it wrong for me to use Anne's husband's donation request as a way to try get in touch with Anne again? Or should I just leave things alone, given her silence?"
If Lil would still like to try to talk with Anne, the right thing would be to respond to her husband's email and make that clear. Since his email indicated the fundraising request was from him and Anne, Lil needn't worry about putting him in the middle of things. If Anne responds, great. If she doesn't, then Lil has done her best to try to maintain the friendship.
While the right thing would be for Anne to make clear to her friends that she'd rather not be contacted or at the very least to respond to their invitations, she's chosen not to. As much as she'd like to, neither Lil nor the others can change that.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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