Can You Be Friends with Someone Who Works for You?

By Harvard Business Review
March 21, 2018

There are ways to maintain such a relationship, but it begins with clear boundaries, trust and transparency. Here are some suggestions. 

It’s one thing to have a peer-to-peer friendship at work, but another to have a power imbalance with your friend. Can you be friends with someone who works for you?

Any manager-employee friendship is fraught with traps. You might damage either the friendship or the working relationship. Or other staff may withhold valuable feedback about the employee if they sense you are friends.

Not every worker can handle being their supervisor’s friend, and they can become offended or hurt by withheld information or negative feedback. And not every boss knows how to navigate the fine line of how much to share and when.

But there are ways you can set your friendship up for success:

Choose your friends carefully: Having a friend who is a subordinate requires high degrees of trust and judgment on both parts. It’s not possible with every work relationship.

Set expectations at the start: You will have knowledge and responsibilities beyond your friend’s role and clearance, and your friend needs to know that. Be transparent up front about what you can and can’t share.

Be clear about your roles in conversation: Explicitly setting norms together for how you will work and play creates equality and equanimity in your friendship.

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Be transparent with others: It is important that your colleagues are aware of your friendship and commitment to not let the relationship influence your team’s decision-making.

Do your job: Be direct and prompt in communications — especially when it comes to negative feedback or unpleasant news, like a layoff. Even if you’re afraid of hurting your friend’s feelings, speak up, but be prepared that there may be rocky times or even long breaks in your relationship. As you wrap up the discussion, let your colleague know you want to be friends, but give him space.

Copyright 2018 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Topics: Management

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