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I de-friended a colleague on Facebook. Now we're on the same project Add to ...

The question

I was close friends with someone for about a year. But we drifted apart and I deleted her from Facebook during a purge because I hadn’t spoken with her in a long while, but mostly because I couldn’t stand her comments, complaints and frequent posting. She called me out on it. I wouldn’t have responded at all except, in my hasty deleting, I forgot that we are about to work together in a close environment for the next four months. So I said it was an accident (but didn’t re-add her.) She didn’t buy it. I fear an awkward work environment or confrontation. My inclination is not to mention it, be collegial and treat her like any other co-worker, although I can almost guarantee she’ll be icy or bring it up. Should I try to smooth things over first?

The answer

I’d say: definitely.

“De-friending” someone, whether online or not, is a stronger gesture than some seem to realize. And why would anyone want to do it? What’s the upside? That’s my attitude.

Facebook has muddied the waters, here, it seems to me. It’s so easy to make Facebook friends. Someone sends you a “friend request.” You point, click – you’re friends! You can be totally passive. I don’t think I’ve ever sent out a friend request, yet I have hundreds of “friends.”

Whereas making real friends, out in the real world, is much tougher. Friendships are built by increments and maintained through effort, and they can cause real heartache and pain.

And ending one can be as fraught, fractious and friction-filled as getting a divorce.

Sounds to me, sister, like your friendship was mostly built offline. But when it fizzled you tried to use an online ethos – point, click, de-friend – to end it.

But you offended her by de-friending her (try saying that five times fast). Now I think you should “re-friend” her, at least a bit.

For starters, that means actually re-friending her on Facebook. Here’s a little secret: You can just unsubscribe from her updates. No more inane posts polluting your feed and she’s none the wiser!

But more than that, I’d recommend taking her out for a glass or two of chardonnay. (Hey, not to stereotype, but LLWW: Ladies Love White Wine.)

You don’t have to overdo it. No need to become BFFs all over again.

But there must have been something you liked about her at some point. Try to recapture and rekindle that, no matter how faintly the ember may be glowing.

“But why, Dave?” I can hear you saying. “I don’t even like her now!”

Doesn’t matter. Allow me to throw a quote at you that everyone knows. It’s popularly attributed to The Godfather, but in fact is from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War – a pre-Christian military-strategy manual adaptable to any kind of problem. (For romantic matters, you simply substitute words like “the city” and “woo” for “battlefield” and “attack”; for work, substitute “boss” and “colleagues” for “general” and “soldiers.”)

Here it is: “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

Everyone knows this saying, but few truly understand it, I feel.

First of all, what is an enemy? Well, I have a bit more expansive (cough, cough, some might say paranoid, cough, cough) definition of this term than most: An enemy is anyone not supportive of your enterprises, who does not wish you well – someone who might snicker with schadenfreude when you’re down and seethe with envy when you’re up.

By this definition, I think we can say we all have a few enemies. Often they come in the form of friends, relatives, co-workers. In fact, we are surrounded by enemies.

I say this without animus or sadness. For me, it’s not emotional, it’s (now comes The Godfather) not personal. But it’s possible some of these people could be an obstacle on my journey – the journey of one who, under that dashing/charming surface (to use a slightly chilling phrase of Gore Vidal’s), “means to prevail.”

This woman may not be an enemy yet – maybe just a slightly grumpy, disgruntled friend – but she’s definitely got enemy/frenemy potential.

And one of the most dangerous types of enemy you can have is a former friend: They know your weak spots, your pressure points and the skeletons in your closet.

And the only kind of enemy more dangerous than an offended former friend is an offended former friend who works at the same place you do.

That could affect your livelihood, your ability to put bread and meat on the table. When you’re not looking, she could slip into your boss’s office and (metaphorically) pull the air hose out of your space suit.

Now, “keep her close” doesn’t mean you have to be all air-kissy and hugsy-wugsy. But it behooves you to open the lines of communication, so you know what’s on her mind.

You need to get this potentially toxic target in your crosshairs and neutralize her before she outflanks and outranks you and torpedoes your ability to pay the mortgage and pick up cheques in restaurants. All because you de-friended her on Facebook.

I don’t care how much chardonnay it takes! Get out there and swill, soldier!

David Eddie is the author of Damage Control, the book.

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