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Blurring the friendship boundaries at work
It’s happened to all of us at some point in our working lives, or if it hasn’t it probably will in the future – you become friends with your manager. Or perhaps you are the manager, and you become friends with a member of your team. As a manager, you naturally hire like-minded people and as an employee you are drawn to managerial figures you admire. It is natural to want to be liked. In an ideal world a leader is both liked and respected. The two are certainly not mutually exclusive.
When you spend so much of your life at work it is extremely important to forge strong relationships. These are what help make sure you get the most out of your day and work efficiently. It is essential that you develop positive relationships with all members of your team for the benefit of the company that you work for. But just how far should these relationships go? There is a marked difference between bring friendly and being friends.
Can you have friends at work?
Should you even try to be friends? If you are, how do you make sure any personal disagreements don’t spill over and affect your working relationship? On the contrary, if you have a difference of opinion at work, how do you make sure it doesn’t affect your personal relationship?
With peer-to-peer relationships it is more straightforward. Work is naturally somewhere we create long lasting friendships and acquaintances. Being friends with a colleague simply means making sure you both behave professionally when you are together at work and not like kids in a playground. Being friends with your manager is another matter entirely.
How to be friends with your manager or direct report
Remember, when you are at work:
- Your responsibility lies with the company
- You must act consistently in the company’s best interests
- Address any issues immediately they arise
- Accept the differing levels of seniority when in the office
- Maintain respect for both relationships
The company pays for you to be there to do your job, not to make friends. As a friend it can be difficult to issue orders, or feel comfortable addressing any problems but once you have identified this problem and set ways to manage it between you, it is surprisingly easy.
Watch team dynamics
The friend vs. manager conundrum gets trickier still when you realise you need to take into account the perception of the wider team. Could your friendship be interpreted as favoritism for example, which can be extremely disruptive to team dynamics? If your team feels you are being unduly influenced by your friendship with one team member in particular then the dynamic of power is shifted and unrest can set in.
So what is the answer? There isn’t an easy or definitive one. Every individual, every friendship and every organisation is different. The one rule of thumb never to lose sight of is that while your friendship may have begun at work, the manager vs. employee relationship comes first and the friendship secondary to work, while you are on work time.
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