Practical Communication

How to End a Friendship or Keep One From Starting

In a recent post, I advocated “Getting Rid of Dead Weight Once and For All.” However, for many people, it’s one thing to know you need to dump some dead weight from your life, it’s another thing to make it happen.

Making the decision to end a friendship is never easy, even if it’s a bad or toxic friendship. However, here are some tips for telling a friend, “it’s over,” or a wannabe friend, “it’s not going to happen.” These tips can also work when a coworker wants to build a friendship outside of work and you’re just not interested.


1. Take the coward’s way out– avoidance. In many situations, culling your friendship herd is typically accomplished by not returning phone calls, cancelling get-togethers, and making excuses to avoid getting together. As a person who is an advocate of communication, I have a hard time recommending this. Ideally one should be direct and address the issue. However, if it works and avoids hurt feelings, it’s a viable option.

2. Offer an honest explanation. If your interests or those of your friend have changed and you find you no longer have anything in common, you might just say so. If your friend has let you down, is abusive, or otherwise disrespectful, you can say that as well. Although it might be difficult to tell a soon-to-be former friend, “Megan, even though you always say you’re just joking, your negative comments toward me have gotten to the point that I’m not longer interested in being on the receiving end of them. I’m not going to be able to spend time with you any more.”

If a serious infraction of the friendship code has occurred, you should address that as well, by letting your friend know exactly what he or she has done to end your friendship: “I’m sorry Carol, I just can’t forgive you for telling Joan what I’d told you in confidence about the trouble I’m having in my marriage and I can no longer be your friend,” or, “I’m sorry, but what you’ve done has caused irreparable damage to our relationships. Therefore, I need to end it.

3. Blame Yourself. If you don’t have the courage to be honest and avoidance isn’t working, you might say something like, “My life is really hectic right now and I just don’t have time or the energy to be a good friend right now.” However, don’t use this approach if you and the other person have mutual friends. There’s nothing more embarrassing than telling someone you don’t have time for friends, then running into him or her when you’re out with a group of your other friends.


Some final tips on “breaking up” with a friend.


1. If possible, have the conversation in person and in private.

2. If you choose to dump your friend by phone, be sure you make the call in private. Pay special attention to your tone of voice- it should be sincere and caring, not cold and callous. That is, unless you WANT to sound “cold” or serious, as in the case of a friend who has wronged you for the last time.

3. Don’t wait. As soon as you’re sure the friendship needs to end. Take action. The longer you wait, the harder it will be on you and the other person.

4. Keep it simple. You don’t need to confront your friend with a date and time-stamped list of injurious actions they’ve perpetrated on you since 1993. One or two examples should suffice. Additionally, don’t create an elaborate story to explain why you don’t want the friendship, simply say, “I enjoy our professional relationship and feel it’s best to keep it at that.”

5. Answer the person’s questions, but don’t feel the need to justify yourself. Your friend may not recall the insults he’s slung or the backstabbing she’s done, or may feel you’re over-reacting and try to talk you out of your dumping plan. It’s fine to provide a brief explanation, but if your friend doesn’t accept it, that’s his or her problem, not yours. Don’t go on and on trying to convince him or her that you’re “right.”

6. Once you end it, end it. Don’t say it’s over and then go to lunch with the person the next week. If you do, you’re sending mixed signals that just prolong the pain of the “breakup” and cause more hurt feelings than necessary. However, if down the road, you reconsider the friendship and want to give it another try, we all have the right to change our minds. Just be sure you negotiate some “ground rules” for re-establishing the relationship so that you can avoid running into the same problems.


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