How to Manage Your Friend

managing friends

How to Be a Boss and a Friend

A former mentor of mine once told me that there are two highly uncomfortable relationships one encounters in his or her management career. The first of these relationships was the one you have when your former boss ends up working for you. That is, the person from whom you once took your marching orders and who gave you performance reviews ends up working for you. The second awkward relationship was the one you have when you end up managing someone who is a personal friend of yours outside of work. “Both” he said, “are inevitable.” Looking more closely at the latter, how do you balance being a boss and a friend to an employee? In the following paragraphs, we will discuss 5 tips for how to approach managing and supervising a friend.

Why Is Managing a Friend Uncomfortable?

Bros before colleagues? Not quite. Maybe you put in for the position and he did not. Perhaps she applied for a job on your existing team. Regardless of the reasons why, it’s an experience you will encounter at some point in your career, but one that does not have to lead to managerial paralysis.

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Obviously, the manager-employee relationship is quite different from the relationship between two friends. Why? Because managers are responsible for providing feedback and writing the performance reviews of their employees. Moreover, managers routinely receive privileged information and sensitive information that he or she cannot share with employees. And as managers, we’re responsible for addressing performance concerns. Such responsibilities require a certain amount of distance to be maintained from your employees, so that decision-making can remain clear and objective. So while it may not seem as such from the outside, staying true to your management duties is not as simple and easy as one might think when you are both a boss and a friend to an employee.

So even though you may now be your friend’s supervisor, it is entirely possible to be both a friend and a boss. Here are a few pointers to help you adjust to the change:

1. Tread Lightly Early On

Regardless of how the situation came about, the best way to serve as a manager for a friend is to start off casually. Coming right out of the gate pounding your chest for 8 hours a day will not only tarnish your professional relationship with the individual, but also your personal one. Early on, it will be awkward having to tell your drinking buddy they need to be on time to meetings, or to critique them in a performance review. But keep in mind, that it will be equally awkward for him or her to hear such input from you. And even if you have no concerns, your friend might. So as the new manager-employee relationship forms, it is always advisable to ease into it so both you and the employee get comfortable and adjust to the new situation over a period of time.

2. Segregate Professional and Pleasure… Over Time

Even after becoming your friend’s boss, you should certainly continue to be friends outside of work. There is no need to change that. That said, make an effort to keep things professional while you’re in the office, even if that means you have a make a few adjustments. This is not to say you can’t joke around here and there, or shouldn’t have a private conversation when needed, but it does mean that you should be a bit more careful and deliberate about the topics and exchanges you have in the workplace. For example, don’t talk about the time the two of you had too much at the bar on a business trip, or the crazy party you went to in college. As the new boss-friend relationship develops over time, increasingly keep things simple and professional in the workplace. Letting personal matters invade into the professional realm will only make things more difficult and complex. Lastly, if needed, pull your friend aside to let him or her know that you want to try to remain fair and objective and that you want to keep the relationship professional at the workplace, regardless of your history.

3. All Employees are Important

When you have a personal friend as an employee, one of the key dynamics you need to manage closely is the relationships you have with other employees in your department. Keeping things professional, as mentioned above, will help you eliminate any perception of favoritism towards your friend by other employees. In reality, your responsibility as a manager is to lead your team and get results. To be a successful manager, you need to have strong and reliable working relationships with all employees. Thus, playing favorites – either in practice, or if only perceived – will greatly reduce your ability to meet such objectives. So when you are trying to figure out how to be a boss and a friend, remember that you need to have healthy relationships with all of your employees, not just those with whom you happen to spend time on Saturday.

4. Don’t Dwell

Unless being a boss and a friend is a particularly sensitive situation, don’t let the awkwardness of the situation consume you or your friend. If for whatever reason you cannot overcome the change in your relationship, make a change to the situation somehow, even if that means one of you takes a new position, or realign to a new team. Among all the stresses and pressure that modern managers experience, adding a layer of complexity to the relationship between you and a given employee will only make your job that much more difficult.

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5. Nothing Lasts Forever

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it is that change is inevitable. Corporate restructuring, attrition, promotions, etc. When you find yourself being a boss and a friend to a given colleague, remember that the situation will change at some point down the line. Maybe your friend will take a promotion into a new department, maybe you’ll move on. Maybe some changes in the company will carve independent paths for you. Why is this important? No matter how well you navigate the complexities of a combined personal and professional relationship, there is always some sensitivity around it during that time. Remembering that change is inevitable will help you recognize that the boss-and-friend relationship is only a temporary thing.

As my mentor once said, finding yourself in a situation where you are both a boss and a friend is inevitable. It will happen at some point in your career. But by approaching the new relationship armed with these tips, you will successfully work your way past the initial awkwardness and settle back into business-as-usual.

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2 comments

  • Joe DeJohn

    Good info if you find yourself in that position, but the best policy (based on almost EVERYTHING I’ve read, besides this article) is simply keep the relationship professional only. Friendly and caring, but professional.

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