All posts by Emily Gregory

How Do I Say That Category

How to Listen, Learn and Avoid a Political Debate

Vice President of Development and Delivery Emily Gregory talks about how to use active listening to learn and converse, rather than debate right and wrong when it comes to politics.

Crucial Conversations QA

When Coworkers Treat You Differently Because of Your Relationship Status

Dear Emily,

I am a single adult woman who wants to do her work and work well with others. However, because of my single status, my workplace culture, and local culture, my sense of self-worth is getting bruised. For example, a number of male colleagues have explicitly told me that they are “just being nice” to me as a colleague. When I heard it the first time, I didn’t think much of it. By the fourth time, I started feeling very annoyed because, while I don’t like any of my male colleagues romantically, I do feel like I’ve been thrown into the dumpster four times. Is there any way to stop their unnecessary reminders that they aren’t interested in me romantically? I am happy being a single lady and have no intention of dating them. Thank you.

Stigmatized Single

Dear Stigmatized Single,

Isn’t it interesting how we allow others’ perceptions to hold power over us? I consider myself a strong, capable, confident woman. And yet a stray comment here or there can occasionally take hold and cause me to question my worth. I have to consciously, willfully remind myself that no other person gets to determine my worth. So, when I read about your bruised self-worth, I saw myself.

You ask how you can stop male colleagues from reminding you that you are single. I’d like to suggest a different question for your consideration. How can I stop feeling hurt when someone makes a comment about only wanting to work with me professionally?

If you would indulge me for just a moment. When I read your question, it reminded me of a conversation I had with a male colleague two years ago as the #metoo movement was gaining traction in the United States. This man came to me, in sincerity and humility, and expressed how he was struggling. He believed he had always worked well with his female colleagues, creating strong working relationships that also included genuine human caring and friendship. He praised their work. And now he was worried. Was there a chance that these women perceived his praise as a compliment? Did they feel like that compliment was inappropriate? Did they know and trust that he viewed them professionally? Should he say something to clarify this?

This man felt like the ground was shifting beneath is feet, causing him to call into question previous norms that he had taken for granted. And, you know what? It was. The ground was shifting and norms were changing and thank goodness for that! It’s about time. And it left this well-intentioned man uncertain.

I encouraged him to talk about it directly with his colleagues. He could start by acknowledging and affirming the shifting norms, sharing his intention to always act respectfully and professionally, and then ask for feedback. What should he do differently?

As it turns out, this man’s behavior had always been respectful and professional and none of his colleagues expressed any concerns. That he was worried about it suggested sensitivity, not guilt.

So, how does this connect with your experience? As I read your words about being told four times that your male colleagues are “just being nice to [you] as a colleague,” I realized that there could be multiple different explanations for these comments.

One explanation could be (and I think you may be hinting at this when you speak of “being thrown into the dumpster”) that men don’t find you desirable. If that is the story you tell yourself about their comments, I can absolutely see why that hurts. I, too, don’t want my male work colleagues thinking about me in those terms. And yet, if they repeatedly and explicitly expressed that, it could trigger feelings of insecurity. For many years, I was a happy single lady, yet I can still remember feeling somewhat hurt by rejection from people I wasn’t interested in. If that is how you are feeling, I’d encourage you to take a step back and reconnect with your sense of self-worth. Remember that your worth is not defined by others or their words.

Another explanation could be that these men, like my colleague, are navigating new norms in the workplace. Perhaps they aren’t yet confident of how to approach the situation. Perhaps they are trying to make it clear that they value you as a work colleague. Yes, maybe they aren’t doing it well, but good for them for trying.

My suggestion is to interpret their actions in the best possible light and tell yourself a different story about their intent. Their words are more a commentary on themselves—where they are right now and what they are trying to navigate—than they are a commentary on you. Then, decide how you will respond the next time a male colleague makes it clear that he wants to keep your relationship totally professional. You could say something like, “Thanks. That is good to hear. I value you as a colleague as well, and it is good to know that you see and judge me on the merits of the work I do. I feel the same way toward you.”

I can hear the hurt in your question. These “unnecessary reminders” that you are single are bruising your self-worth. I understand that. And, I am suggesting that it is not the statements themselves that are hurtful, but the story you tell yourself about why these men are saying these things. When we tell ourselves a different story, we often feel differently.

All the best,

Crucial Conversations QA

How to End a Friendship but Remain Roommates

Dear Emily,

I have been living with my roommate and good friend for a couple of years now. We have had several trust issues in the past but have been able to resolve them after long and emotional conversations. However, recently she broke my trust and I don’t want to fix the friendship. That said, we are signed to a lease for the next 10 months. I don’t want to talk with her, but she deserves to know that the friendship is over. How should I talk with her about ending our friendship but remaining cordial as roommates?

Rifted Roommate

Dear Rifted Roommate,

Your question hits home for me. One of the most challenging times in my life occurred during the four months between when my husband and I decided to get a divorce and when we moved out of our place. Living in a shared space for those four months as we tried to navigate the end of one relationship (our marriage) and the development of a new one (as co-parents) was at times excruciating. Here are a few things I learned from our conversations that I hope will help you with yours.

Start With Heart

Before you can have a productive conversation with someone else about a difficult, painful, or emotional topic, you need to have a productive conversation with yourself. You need to truly understand your intent for wanting to have the conversation and challenge your motives to get clear on what they are. In other words, what is your goal here?

When trust has been broken, when relationships have shifted, when feelings have been hurt, we sometimes feel a deep need to speak our truth so as to honor and affirm our experience and our pain. If you need that closure, I absolutely respect that. But it that’s your aim, please recognize that your goal is about you and your needs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can make it more difficult to have a productive conversation because your underlying intent, and therefore focus, is on you, not them.

It can be helpful to expand your intent by asking yourself:

  • What do I really want here for me? You probably already know this. I am guessing from your question that you want authenticity, honesty, self-respect and clear boundaries.
  • What do I really want for the other person? This is trickier. I would hazard a guess but there is not really anything in your question to go on. I don’t see any indication that you have given thought to what you want for her. I’d suggest you spend some time here. This can be a hard question to answer because often, when faced with difficult conversations, we have strong judgments and emotions about the other person. But here is the thing: you were friends once. The person you were saw something of worth and value in the person she was. Try to see that again. Not to repair the friendship or excuse the breach of trust, but simply to see her as a human being of worth and value. Then, with that in mind, ask yourself: what do I want for this human being?
  • What do I really want for the relationship? You know the relationship you don’t want. And, if you’re like most of us, you’ve spent some time thinking or even ruminating about that. Try spending some time thinking about the relationship you do want for the next ten months. Visualize. What do you want to feel and experience in your home? What will the emotional tenor of your interactions be? Cold indifference? Warm support? Passing acknowledgement?

Taking some time to get clear on your intent for yourself, for her, and for the relationship, will prepare you to hold the conversation.

Make It Safe

How you initiate the conversation can greatly affect how the other person will respond. Most people get defensive when they perceive an attack, whether it be in the form of criticism, judgment, or blame. So, if someone is getting defensive, assume you said or did something that, for them, felt attacking.

You are about to tell a friend that your feelings toward her have changed because of things she has done. That will likely feel like an attack. If it is an attack, then that is on you and you should back away until you are in a better place to hold the conversation. If it’s not an attack, if your intent is truly to create a positive living space for each of you, then you need to communicate that. Consider some of the ways you might do that:

  • Honor the relationship you had in the past and the things you admire about her.
  • Acknowledge that both of you, like all people, have grown and changed over the course of your relationship.
  • Share that, while you see your relationship differently now, you want to create a positive, warm living arrangement going forward. You want something that will work for yourself and her.
  • Be clear and direct. Sugarcoating doesn’t create safety. Candor does. Don’t dodge. Speak directly. The relationship you used to have doesn’t work any longer. And yet, you still want to have a friendly relationship moving forward.

Give Her Time

A change in a close, personal relationship is inevitably emotional. My guess is that you have already done a lot of your own emotional work in processing this change. She probably hasn’t. Be generous and give her the time and space she may need to process this. She will likely be hurt. Hurt people sometimes say unkind things. If she does, forgive her.

This will likely be more than one conversation. It is the rare individual that can process and respond to the end of a friendship within a single conversation. Respect her need to step away from the conversation.

Be Careful

When we become friends, we let down walls. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable with others. Sometimes the result is friendship. Other times the result is pain. There is pain in this for both of you. Take care of yourself. And be careful with her. She was once a friend.