This is the first of four columns by Karla Miller, winner of last month’s @Work Advice Contest.Tell us what you think and send your workplace questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A colleague and I have fallen in love after working closely together for about a year. We have a tremendous amount in common , and furthermore, he is one of the best human beings I have ever met. Unfortunately, our boss has forbidden us from dating because he feels it would be bad for office morale. (Dating colleagues isn’t against company policy, as long as there is no supervisory relationship between the parties.) One or both of us leaving the company would be possible but not easy — we work in a highly technical specialty, so there aren’t a lot of jobs.
How do we deal with these feelings, which we can’t act on, while we decide what to do in the long run? (We’re both single/available.)
Karla: Since you can’t act on your intense feelings for one another, channel them into your work — everyone wins! Also, join a local gym so you can duck out for cold showers.
Think that’ll work? Me, neither. So let me answer the question you really want answered: Can’t we get together, anyway?
I know plenty of couples who met, married and split while co-workers. What the most successful co-worker couples have in common is a firm pair of D’s: discretion and distance.
By discretion, I mean that the dating couples give no sign they are more than co-workers. No three-hour lunches, no whisper-fights by the water cooler, no Seven Minutes in the Supply Closet. With the married co-workers I’ve known, only their matching surnames would hint that they’re together — well, that and sharing the same offspring on Bring Your Child to Work Day.
Distance means working in different departments and/or on separate projects. It also means staying out of each other’s work conflicts and keeping your personal and professional interactions in separate spheres.
I have to wonder, though, how your boss knew there was anything to forbid. Did you ask his permission? Or was your mooning over each other so obvious that the UPS guy thinks you should get a room, already? In that case, your boss may have a point about morale. Of course, his “forbidding” you to date is about as effective (and probably as legal) as ordering you to body-paint each other with chocolate.
But aside from your boss’s edict, here’s one big reason you should proceed with caution: You’re in a small field. If you handle this badly, your reputation could precede you like a lit fuse.
* * *
Help! A co-worker’s giving me the stink eye.
We’ve had one run-in the past where I felt she misrepresented my views and overstepped her boundaries. I spoke to her about it (I thought politely). Her supervisor dinged her on it, and I thought we moved on. Now, she leaves when I come in to a lunchroom and won’t exchange basic pleasantries except for a hello. It is bothering me. I’m also starting to dislike her intensely as a result. I never really liked her, but do you have tips on how to just be neutral? I get such waves of animosity from her, I almost want to confront her.
Karla: I’m trying to imagine that confrontation. “Hey, remember when I called you out for disrespecting me, and then your supervisor slapped your wrist for it? Get over it and be nicer to me, or I’m going to really not like you.”
Look, you won. You stood up for yourself appropriately, and her own supervisor backed you up. Yes, it sounds like she’s being petulant, but there’s nothing to be gained by playing into the drama or poking her bruises.
From now on, your dealings with her should be polite and businesslike. “Hello” is a perfectly adequate pleasantry. If she slinks out of the room, you don’t notice it. Treat her as you would a colleague you don’t know well: with arm’s-length courtesy. If things eventually improve, great. If not, well, why do you care if someone you “never really liked” isn’t fond of you, either?
Now, if she starts actively undermining you or sabotaging your projects, you’ll have cause for another polite confrontation — and you’ll have a history of having taken the high road.
Karla L. Miller, 39, lives with her husband, a self-employed science and tech consultant, and toddler in South Riding, Va. She once dreamed of being a creative writer but succumbed to the lure of a steady paycheck. But 16 years of writing and editing tax publications — most recently for the Washington National Tax office of downtown accounting firm KPMG LLP — hasn’t dulled her prose. Miller’s advice won over judges and voters. Her prize? Four weeks to win you over. E-mail us at email@example.com and let us know what you think.
Did you miss the @Work Advice Contest? Want to see Karla’s entries? Go to washingtonpost.com/workadvice.