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Friendship with a co-worker

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Question: I work as an exec. assistant in a medium-sized business.  Given my computer knowledge, I was assigned the responsibility of helping to maintain our company's ever-expanding Web site, which details our company's history, current events, newsletter, etc.  We began this project 3 years into my employment with the company and at that time, hired an outside consultant who runs her own Web site-development company here in town to help me.

She and I grew close, and I considered her a co-worker in all aspects of the word, even though she worked in a consultant role for my bosses and wasn't technically an onsite employee.  We e-mailed back and forth every so often every week for several years, and the site grew to be the best it had been in a long time.  Her areas of expertise lay in the artistic-design area of Web site design, and any technical issues were passed on to her Web site admin host, who was usually very quick to resolve any issues at all.  I usually don't cross ANY line between work and personal life, but in many ways, I felt like we knew one another as co-workers more than my OWN co-workers.  I invited her to my wedding; she came and gave me a lovely gift and we were able to chat that day and say hello.

With the sudden onslaught of spam on the Net about a year to two years ago, her Web site admin had technical issues of his own and we suddenly started experiencing an onslaught of spam e-mails.  Things got really, really bad for a period of time during which we experienced lost e-mail and problems with being able to retrieve and send e-mail.  Each time, I worked with this woman and she told me the same thing: It's a technical issue; it's out of their hands. This is an overall problem affecting everyone online these days. There's nothing they can do about this right now. Keep deleting it.

My bosses finally got fed up and, because of this very issue, "fired" her by literally telling her that we would not be renewing her contract.  I can't say I blame them from a business standpoint: It was really wreaking a lot of havoc, AND there are such things as spam blocker programs out now that work!!.  My bosses didn't tell her specifically WHY they were doing this, just THAT they were doing it, and kept me out of the loop.

The problem is this:  I have been too embarrassed to keep in touch.  I don't want to bring up what happened and I know it is probably a sore point because we were, at that point, her most long-term client.  It isn't anything personal against her that we had to end this business relationship, but I feel the loss of our contact.

Unbeknownst to my co-workers, my boss and this woman, I am currently considering a lateral job move to another company for personal and health reasons.  I need all the local references I can get, and I would love to use her as a reference but don't want to open up a nasty can of worms.   

Do I just keep quiet and not contact this person and chalk this up to "This is why you don't develop friendships with co-workers outside of business hours"?  Or do I shoot myself in the foot by not using this valuable contact?

Any suggestions?  What would you do?

Thanks.  -- Confused N.Y. State Admin


Not for anything you were "friends" but you were "too embarrassed to keep in touch". However, now its convenient for you to all of a sudden "Keep in touch". If I were you, I were just move on.....

I would contact this consultant person, just for the sake of it. Just tell her you wanted to find out how she was doing, and apologize for not calling sooner, and explain that you preffered to wait until everything calmed down before calling her. I am sure she will appreciate your phone call.

Millie Moscoso

Dear Confused,

You shouldn't have to apologize for the actions of your boss. Your friend was a consultant and certainly was aware that consulting jobs are not permanent in any sense of the word. Eventually she would have to move on. In fact, she may be doing better than ever now, only you don't know it because you haven't kept in touch. Don't let that stop you.

Call her up, ask her how she's doing. Listen to her first. She probably has moved beyond the situation you are still stuck on. Then share your plans. Don't rehash the negative parts of the past. Just share a laugh or two about the good times.

Everyone gets busy in life. She probably feels a little awkward about not calling you. So make the first move and maybe you'll rekindle a friendship in the same action.

You can certainly test the water by contacting her. Why not send a quick note and see where you stand. She may be embarrassed for having been fired, so unless one of you makes the first move you'll just be sitting there wondering. The worst that can happen is that she declines your offer of communication. That way at least you'll get an answer.

You didn't mention how long it has been since you had contact with her. If it has been a short period of time, I would go ahead and contact her IF you are wanting to try to re-capture your friendship. If you are only doing it for the reference, then I would say forget it. She will most likely think that is the only reason you have gotten in touch and will feel even worse than she does now.

But if you truly miss her friendship, call her up and suggest meeting for lunch somewhere. Explain to her that you were out of the loop on their decision to not renew her contract and that you have felt awkward about contacting her. Tell her how you really feel. She may be feeling the same hesitancy to get in touch as you are. Then after that initial conversation, you can decide whether or not to bring up the reference.

I think if you were a good friend you would have contacted her immediately to express your sympathy about her losing the contract with your employer and let her know that you hope that this would not affect your friendship with her. You can still tell her about the new job you are applying for and ask her if she would be willing to give you a reference. If you haven't contacted her for several weeks, I wouldn't bother her as it shows that you are not much of a friend to her.

If it has been a long time since you've contacted her I would say reestablish the friendship but forget asking for a reference. It seems like you would just be using her and that is not what a friend does. If it hasn't been too long, contact her but don't bring up the reference issue until you have reestablished your friendship and feel the time is right. I understand your awkwardness and discomfort in this situation, but since it was not your fault that she was fired I feel you should have kept in touch. I certainly question the depth of that friendship.

Dear Confused,
I had a similar situation 2 years ago when I left a company. It was a very small office so the three other woment there and I became very close friends. We became so close that I had been invited for holidays and we spent almost every weekend together, traveling, going to dinner, or dancing. We spoke every night and had constant contact. When I left the company I failed to keep in touch with these people for the same reason, I felt embarissed and bad for the way I had left the company. On my birthday about 2 months later I got a call from the girls singing happy birthday and letting me know how much they missed me. They were very upset that I had not kept in touch and said they didn't call me because they knew that I felt badly about the situation. To this day I still keep in touch with every one and spend time with them. I thank god that they took the time to call me. I think that if you call her and say you just wanna catch up and you miss her she will wonder why you haven't called sooner.
Good luck

I agree with most that if it has been a while since you've contacted her, and if you truly value the relationship, call her and try to reestablish the friendship. I don't think I would ask her if I could use her as a reference because it would appear to be the motivation for calling. If in the course of catching up, you mentioned your plans, she might offer to serve as a reference but if not, I don't think I'd ask.

I agree with a lot of what has already been said. However . . . . there are two issues at play here.

One is the friendship, and one is business. Is your friend a reputable business person? If so, then she should respond to your request in a reputable way.

I also had a similiar type situation with a highly visible position in my company and travelled nationwide making many friends all over the country. Then I was caught in a corporate lay off. I was so embarrassed (even though I had no fault) I didn't keep contact with anyone. About nine months later, one of the District Managers asked me to come back and do some training, etc. in all of his area's locations. I thought long and hard as I was still embarrassed by going from someone to no one overnight. Invariably, as I arrived at each office, talked to people on the phone, etc. they ALL gave me such a warm welcome, telling me how much I had been missed it made me so glad I had accepted the contract work and traded the embarrasment for absolute joy.

I think the lunch idea is a great one. Meet face to face on neutral ground, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised at how well things will go.

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