Is a female colleague behaving as if you don’t exist?

When you say hello to her, does she walk away or turn to talk to someone else without acknowledging you?

When you ask her a question, do you get a monosyllabic, stony faced response?

Perhaps she forgets to pass on messages to you, or to tell you that your boss was looking for you?

She may even go so far as inviting all your colleagues, except you, to an event.

If you are experiencing these behaviours, you might be on the receiving end of the Cold Shoulder.  That’s tough, but let’s focus on what you can do. How hard can it be? After all, there’s only one thing to focus on – your own behaviour. It sounds simple, but be prepared because it may not be easy.

Reality Check

Before looking at your response to the Cold Shoulder, let’s take a reality check.

In my post Bitchiness A Subtle Art  I discussed the importance of context when determining what is and isn’t bitchy behaviour. Context can change how we see behaviour. Take the example of a picture of a woman crying – we think she looks sad. Then the camera zooms out … a man is kneeling in front of her holding up a diamond ring. We realise that her tears are tears of joy, not sadness.

If you zoom out on your Cold Shoulder colleague, what do you see?shutterstock_249282415

Is she like that with everyone?

Is she under stress or unwell?

Is she unpopular or lonely?

If you don’t already know, you might need to take the time to get to know more about her before you can answer these questions.

Your Reaction?

It’s time to look at how you might have already responded. As you work through this, please go easy on yourself, because up until now you’ve probably been reacting to the sense of hurt. Let’s see.

Did I Do Something Wrong?

Women are socially conditioned to believe that it’s good to get along with others. When we face the cold shoulder, often our first reaction is to wonder what we did to upset that person. This can lead us to obsess about past events, relive the details over and over, and analyse them to determine what we did wrong. We may even go so far as asking others for their opinion about what grave sin we may’ve committed.

shutterstock_328418696If you’re at the obsessing stage, it’s time to get some perspective. The first thing to do is to stop it! Obsessing doesn’t help you – it may even encourage more Cold Shoulder behaviour.

Take a step back, and find a time and place where you can relax. Then ask yourself the following questions:

How long has this been happening?

What was my relationship with her before the Cold Shoulder started?

How important is this relationship to me? Answer on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being super important.

Do I care about my relationship with this person? OR Is a negative relationship potentially damaging for me?

Do I know what triggered the behaviour?

Did I do something inappropriate?

Make sure that you write your answers down.

The Empire Strikes Back

Being on the receiving end of the Cold Shoulder can be hurtful and insulting, even threatening. These feelings trigger defensive responses, which are understandable, but not necessarily helpful. Have you reacted in an unhelpful way? Perhaps even stooped to her level?

shutterstock_217341016I recommend that you do the following exercise while looking in the bathroom mirror, and ask the questions out aloud. Write the answers down when you’re done.

Have I honestly looked at my own behaviour towards her?

Have I retaliated by being cold back to her?

Have I bad mouthed her to others?

Have I made cutting remarks to, or about, her?

If you’ve done a Darth Vader and struck back, then stop it now! Break the cycle.

What Can I Do About It?

That depends a lot on the context and how you answered the preceding questions.

Here’s some general advice for responding to the Cold Shoulder:

  • Don’t counter attack
  • Don’t actively try to win her over
  • Remain polite, pleasant and professional (remember the 3Ps)
  • Ensure that you deliver what you are supposed to at work
  • Stop expecting friendliness

Advice based on the work of Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster.

Have you experienced the Cold Shoulder? What advice would you give?

Please share your thoughts and any constructive comments section below.