Six months ago, an unexpected opportunity came up for me. A friend had one person drop out of a group for an Alaskan cruise and asked if I wanted to attend. I very much did! I wouldn’t normally be able to afford a cruise on my own, I had enough vacation time saved up, and it was the first time I was able to take any kind of a trip since before the pandemic. Unfortunately, I was also in the middle of a project with my coworker Priya. I asked her if she could handle the workload by herself while I was gone, and she agreed she could. It was my understanding that she delivered it well on her own. You’d think that would mean it all worked out, right?

Wrong! Ever since, she’s been giving me the cold shoulder! I wouldn’t say she’s been outright rude, but the difference is night and day from how she used to be. She pointedly asks if I’m able to commit every time we receive a new project, and any favor I need to ask of her, no matter how minor, is met with a sigh or a world-weary “It’s fine…” Meanwhile, she’s still sweet as pie to our other coworkers.

I’ve offered to cover time off for her and put in late nights on every project to prove I’m pulling my worth, but it seems to make no difference. Now I’m afraid things will only get worse the next time I need time off. I miss when we were a team. Can I ever get back on her good side, or did I throw away a good working relationship over a cruise?

Oh dear…welcome to the dark side of Stabilizers, letter writer! People-pleasing can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s great to have a team member who gets satisfaction from stepping up and helping others; but on the other hand, nobody likes a martyr, and especially not one who volunteered for the position. It seems pretty clear that, regardless of whether or not it’s fair, Priya has created a narrative that you took advantage of her and now you are no longer to be trusted. While she agreed in the moment, she felt put upon and taken for granted, and now she wants you to know it, even if she won’t say it outright.

It may be time to turn the subtext into text: you two need to have a talk about your feelings, and she needs to feel like you really heard her. Be prepared to hear something you don’t like, even if she couches it in soft language. The reason she iced you out may be that she’s been feeling that way longer than you know, and finally feels justified enough to express it. Alternately, she may realize that her “revenge” behavior is hurting the team and will finally articulate what would make her feel like you two are clear again.

After you’ve had a talk, try showing your appreciation for her in ways other than working extra hard and trying to volunteer to cover shifts. Notice the things she contributes and point them out (not publicly – too much lime-light), even in something as small as a quick aside in an email. Take a little extra time for personal chat and keep an eye on her milestones. Stabilizers crave personal connection, and she may have been missing your attempts to reconcile through work alone.

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