Whether you and a friend accept positions at the same company or your relationship with a colleague grows from small talk to genuine friendship, odds are good that, you’ll work with a friend at some point during your career. Having a good friend in the office can provide personal and professional benefits or put a strain on your friendship. The following strategies will help you successfully manage the friend-at-work dynamic.
Provide support through achievements and challenges
Working for the same company means you have unique insight into your friend’s professional successes and setbacks. Therefore, you’re positioned to be one of his or her best cheerleaders and empathizers, or at least the most immediate one.
Supporting your friend may seem like a given, but it’s not always easy and a perceived lack of support leads to relationship conflicts. For instance, if your friend gets a promotion before you or gets big kudos from the boss, your first reaction may be professional jealousy and resentment. Or, if a client nearly pushes your friend over the edge and you blow her off when she tries to vent to you about it, you’ll hurt her feelings and she might resent you. Be there when she needs you, focus on her feelings in those moments, and celebrate or console as the situation dictates.
Respect each other’s role
Maybe you’re at an equivalent level in different departments, or perhaps you’re your friend’s manager. Regardless, you need to respect your friend’s authority and assigned tasks. Need to ask your friend a favor? No problem, but remain cognizant of your friend’s duties and, especially if your request is unrelated to her work, do not take advantage of her by abusing her willingness to lend a hand.
Remember that the power dynamics will be different when you’re on the clock, and change your behavior accordingly. If you’re in a subordinate position to your friend, do not publically challenge her and do not ask for special treatment.
Keep it professional
Your attitude, language, and behavior should all be professional. Avoid talking about romantic pursuits, drinking, and similar topics while in the office. Jokes, insults, foul language, and anything else that has the potential to offend are still not work appropriate, so save them for after hours. Similarly, remember that professional feedback and advice are different than personal advice; set the tone for success and help her achieve it, even if doing so requires you to bruise her ego with (constructive) criticism.
Friend time can be a great respite from the daily grind, but make sure to remain task-oriented and work-focused the majority of the time. You don’t want to be known as more likely to be seen with your friend than to be seen working.
Remember it’s always personal
Although you want to be business-minded in your interactions in order to maintain professionalism, you must also consider that because you and your friend have a personal relationship, even work matters will have a personal element. Be aware of the impact your words and actions may have on your friend. Something as simple as giving your friend a head’s up in the morning that you won’t be able to grab your usual afternoon coffee together because you’ll be on a call avoids the irritation of an unexpected absence at coffee time.
Don’t be exclusive
We naturally gravitate toward and associate with people who are similar to us, but that can be to our detriment. The workplace provides an easy way to make friends with people who are different from us; people we’d likely not have befriended in other circumstances, but who can help us grow as people and employees. If you and your friend or small group of friends give the impression that you’re exclusive or cliquey, you will not only miss out of the benefits of making new, diverse friends. You may also inadvertently create a hostile working environment. Keep your friend close, but engage with other colleagues as well.
Have you ever worked with a friend before?
Ask Rachel Millner, Levo mentor and Director of Public Relations at WIRED, about her friendships with co-workers!