Most of us struggle with finding the ideal balance that is necessary in attaining excellent work relationships. Should you be the friend at work that people can come confide in? Should you aim to be the distant co-worker that comes in to the office, gets the job done, and goes home? Honestly, it will vary based on your personality. But, from personal experience, I know that the best place to fall is actually a middle ground, but that will take some practice. Below, I provide some advice, and I reflect on the pitfalls and advantages of both approaches.
Being Liked Can’t Be Bad
If you are liked at work, regardless of your role, everything should be just hunky-dory right? Maybe, but imagine a scenario where it could backfire. You are a low level manager of a team of a number of individuals. They know you well and you all get along famously. Occasionally, you all meet up for dinner after reaching milestones at work and become very friendly. Suddenly, you get to a place where you have to discipline or let someone go. They are your friends though. How can you fire a friend, or even write them up? Some people just don’t have the stomach to do it, and if you fall in that category, keep your business relationships as far from friendship as you can, while still being a good manager.
On the other hand, being friends with those you work with can have some benefits. It is key that you will have the ability to act as their manager when the time comes so ensure you have that ability. The main advantage here is a more open line of communication. Your employees will see you as someone they can talk to more openly and you will start to learn about the issues that could cause major problems down the road. Be careful though, if someone gets into trouble, you are going to be the person that has to have the hard talk with them.
Being Respected Is Easier
Respect is something that is earned, not given. Being a manager does not mean that you will be respected. New team members will need to see that you are a manager for a good reason. If you can’t show them why you were selected as a manager you can’t earn the respect you need. When you don’t have respect, you don’t have the support of the team. Earning respect takes some time, but you are likely in the position because you have earned it through your talents.
Spend time learning about leadership and building business relationships. There are books, websites and videos dedicated to this subject alone. Once you build respect, having serious discussions becomes easier. The problem is you will likely be feared in some way. If this is the case, you are less likely to have open and honest communication from your employees and that can lead to surprises as issues arise down the road.
Walking the Fine Line
Ultimately, the goal is to be able to be friendly, but also respected. I don’t think I can give better examples than to share a personal story. When I was managing a team, I became very good friends with one of my assistants. Unfortunately, he did something that required termination. It wasn’t something terrible that made it easy to view him as a bad person, it was just a simple lapse in judgment. I spoke with my supervisor about the issue and he asked what I wanted to do. I told him that I had to let him go. I gained respect for that, because I was given the option to simply give him a warning. If I didn’t like the guy, I would have no qualms about letting him go.
It would be two days before I saw him and could have the talk, and that turned into two nights of not being able to sleep. I knew, to be respected as a manager, I had to treat him equally purely based on what he did, not based on how good of friends we were. He showed up for work, I looked exhausted he said (I think, it was my first time to do this and I was obviously torn up about it), and I told him thanks and asked him to come to my office. We sat down and he knew what was coming. I gave him some options about leaving the company and explained that I was disappointed. I never mentioned my personal feelings as they didn’t matter at that point.
In the end, he was amazingly accepting of it, stayed in my office for a while to talk, then asked if he was still welcome to come to the store and hang out. I told him of course he was. He called me that night and thanked me for handling him the same I would have anyone. We continued to be friends for years after I had to let him go.
The fine line is one tough to walk. I had some great leaders in my life that helped me down that path, but understand that it can be painful. You will get to know these people that become your friends. You will know how much it affects their life when you have to have the talks with them. You will also lose sleep over what you have to do. Ultimately, though, you will not only be respected for what you can do, you will be respected for how you do it with grace, fairness and a sense of understanding.