Ask Emma: How do I keep my work relationship professional?

Communication is most important step; have direct conversation in public place



They say the heart wants what the heart wants. But what do you do if that happens to be your coworker?

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen news editor

Dear Emma,

I have developed a close personal relationship with one of my coworkers. That was fine for a while, but I am starting to develop feelings for this person. I don’t know how to keep our interactions professional at this point. 

Even though I really like this person, I don’t think it is wise for us to start a romantic relationship. How do I preserve our working relationship (and maybe our friendship) but let them know we shouldn’t date?

Any advice you have is appreciated. Thanks!

Crushing Hard

Dear Crushing Hard,

Well, that sounds like quite a pickle. I am super conflict-avoidant, so if I were in your situation, I would just avoid your coworker until things die down. However, it doesn’t really sound like that is an option for you.

I’m glad you don’t want to date your coworker. If you hadn’t said that, I would have cautioned you about professional boundaries in the workplace. It can be super tempting to date a coworker, especially if you are often in close proximity to them, but it can cause a lot of problems.

That being said, the most important thing for you to do is communicate. You shouldn’t keep this person in the dark if you consider them to be your friend. That doesn’t mean you need to give them live updates on your decision-making process, but you should let them know that you don’t want to move from friendship to a dating relationship — before it becomes a huge issue.

I think you should have a direct conversation with your coworker. Make sure it is in a public place so you both have to act professionally. Let them know that you do have feelings but that you don’t want to pursue them romantically. Clearly establish your boundaries, and let them know that you will have to distance yourself if those boundaries are compromised. That way they know what is happening if you aren’t as close with them in the future.

I know that can really suck, especially when you are a close friend with someone, but I think that is the healthiest thing to do in this situation. It saves you from getting in a relationship with a coworker, and it prevents them from wondering why you’re unusually distant if you don’t communicate what is going on. 

I wish you the best of luck with this because I know how intimidating it can be to initiate this type of conversation. Trust your communication skills to carry you through this.

I hope this helps!