Working With Your Friends

Column by Janine Popick, "Women in Business"
November 2007

Put up boundaries before your friends get too cozy being the boss's buddy.

Have you ever hired a friend? Someone you may have worked with in the past? We all do it, and for good reason: We trust them and we think they'll do a good job. Otherwise we wouldn't do it, right?

Then a great thing happens. Your company grows and you find yourself working with new people you don't have a previous relationship with... a sign of good times! But what happens when your relationship with your "Friend from the Past" (FFTP) changes from business to personal, and they don't follow?

Have any of these scenarios ever happen to you?

  • Your FFTP, who reports to you, is talking to a colleague and tries to get what they want by playing the "I know the boss" card, or "Do you know how important this is to the boss?"
  • Your FFTP talks to you around work colleagues in a disrespectful way. When you confront them about it:
    • YOU: "I would never talk to my John Ex-Boss like you talk to me."
    • FFTP: "You didn't have a past with them."
  • Your FFTP starts going down memory lane, mentioning past good times in a business setting. These are personal memories that appear to connect you two together more closely than you connect with other colleagues.

What makes an FFTP think he/she can skate smoothly over the lines of business and make it personal?

People always want to feel important and if they can represent themselves that way because of a personal connection with you, you bet they will. In my experience, it's a rare occasion that they don't, especially when they can get something out of it that will help them in one way or another.

What do you do?

  • You confront him/her, one-on-one: You need to communicate that it's not fair to peers in the company to use a personal relationship to get farther. If that doesn't work...
  • You "out" him/her: I'm not saying in a crowded room, but you need to let others in the company know you don't tolerate this behavior and that they should not be treated differently because of a history. If that doesn't work...
  • You fire him/her: It's not the best case, but the longer that you have the FFTP hanging around, the more it will appear to others in your company that you accept how he/she treats you. Then others might jump on the bandwagon, which is the last thing you want.

I've worked with friends in the past, sometimes with great success, and other times not so much. What I have learned (the hard way) is to put up boundaries when it relates to business — and do it quickly.

Am I saying don't have personal relationships with those you work with? Absolutely not. Some of my best friends are people I work with today. They realize that business is business.

That's why they're friends for life.

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