What to Do When Your Friend Becomes Your Boss

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Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

A workplace friend moving into a senior position and effectively becoming your boss can be difficult, so what can you do to manage the situation?

Article 9 Minutes
What to Do When Your Friend Becomes Your Boss

Your colleague has recently been promoted, resulting in a change of roles where she now holds a higher position than you. Formerly equals, you may wonder how to adjust your relationship and anticipate any changes in treatment. Specifically, how do you navigate the transition when a close friend becomes your boss? This article provides practical tips for managing this shift, offering strategies to handle power dynamics, uphold professionalism, and preserve your personal friendship in a work setting.

 

Workplace friendships are an integral part of our professional lives, providing support, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging. However, when a personal relationship intersects with a change in the power dynamics, such as a friend being promoted to a senior position and becoming your boss, it can create a unique set of challenges.

In such situations, it becomes crucial to navigate the transition effectively while maintaining a healthy and respectful relationship.

Let's explore strategies to successfully handle this unique situation

1. Talk about it

This is a significant change in your relationship, so it's important that you and your friend have a frank discussion about it and be honest about how you feel.

Firstly, remember that your friend will care about your opinion and could feel hurt if you resent their progress, so offer your praise and congratulations on their promotion. This might be difficult if the role they have taken is one you were interested in yourself, but it's always better to be magnanimous than bitter.

If you're somewhat shocked at the news and have some concerns about how it will affect your relationship, don't be afraid to admit it. Try to look to the future with optimism, though, and think about how you and your friend can maintain a positive, if different, relationship.

When your friend becomes your boss, it's crucial to have an open and honest discussion about the changes in your relationship. Offer your congratulations and praise for their promotion, even if it was a role you aspired to. Maintain optimism and explore ways to redefine and nurture your friendship in the workplace.

2. Accept that things will change

One of the least helpful responses to your friend becoming your boss is pretending it hasn't happened and trying to carry on as if nothing has changed.

The reality is that your friend has moved into a new role that requires them to take on different responsibilities, which might include evaluating your conduct at work and making sure you are on track to meet your professional targets.

It's vital to accept that things have changed and to maintain a mature attitude, even if your friend-turned-boss is required to do certain tasks that make you both feel slightly uncomfortable.

By accepting the change and moving forward in a sensible, understanding way, the new situation will soon feel like the norm.

3. Help your boss succeed

One of the most important things to remember is that, however close you were (and may continue to be) with your new boss in friendship terms, your relationship now needs to take on a new dimension in the workplace.

If you want to be professional and make a positive contribution to the company, one of your top priorities should be to help your boss settle into their new role. The close connection you already have with them means you can play a big part in helping them drive stronger performance for your team and the business as a whole.

You can continue to show support for them and help them make a smooth transition into their new role by:

  • Being open-minded and positive about any new initiatives or practices they want to introduce
  • Staying focused on your core responsibilities and how you can make their task easier by doing your job to a high standard
  • Helping them gather data and insights from your team to inform their planning and decision making

4. Be open with other colleagues

If your co-workers were also friendly with the person who has moved into a more senior role, they are effectively going through exactly the same experience as you.

Opening up to these colleagues and having an honest conversation about the latest developments could help you feel a lot more comfortable. Speaking about your worries often has a positive, cathartic effect, and you could feel reassured if your co-workers are finding the situation difficult as well.

Furthermore, the fact that your friend is becoming your boss could mean that certain parts of your relationship will be lost. Getting to know other team members better and forming stronger bonds with them could help to make up for this, ensuring you still have people to talk to and rely on when your job gets stressful.

These are often some of the biggest advantages of working closely with others every day, and a change in one relationship could herald the start of a new phase in another.

5. Avoid office gossip

Office gossip is rarely helpful or productive, but it can be particularly damaging when someone who's had a close relationship with a newly promoted boss gets involved in spreading rumors or creating a toxic workplace atmosphere It's crucial to maintain a professional attitude and to steer clear of any situations that might make you or the boss feel uncomfortable.

Another possibility is that you'll overhear people talking about your friend-turned-boss and saying things you might know to be untrue. In this scenario, the best policy will be to stay out of it and let an impartial party deal with the situation.

When workplace gossip starts to become a real problem, there are actions you can take to help find a resolution to the issue. One option could be to take it to the HR department, which could be particularly important if you feel it's escalating to the point of bullying.

Just remember that, while you may have been close with the new boss as a friend, that doesn't mean you have to feel responsible for protecting or standing up for them. Sticking to the procedures outlined in your company policies and following the proper channels will always be the best option.

6. Don't expect favorable treatment

Perhaps most importantly of all, it's vital that you don't assume your friend will be able to give you special treatment or privileges now that they're your boss.

Respect the fact they have taken on a new role, and it could be the start of an exciting phase in their career. Small favors or benefits for you - however innocuous they might seem - could be interpreted as prejudicial to other members of the workforce. If your friend is found to have been involved in this sort of conduct, it could cost them their job.

However, it's quite possible that your friend becoming your boss could have benefits in the long run. They know you well and know what you're capable of in a professional sense, so if a new job or a promotion becomes available, you might be at the top of their list.

7. Establish clear boundaries

To maintain a professional relationship, it's important to establish clear boundaries and separate personal matters from work-related discussions. Focus on work-related topics during work hours and avoid engaging in personal conversations that could distract from your professional responsibilities.

Choose appropriate settings, such as lunch breaks or after work, for personal discussions. Respect the confidentiality of personal information shared by your friend-turned-boss and maintain discretion when it comes to work-related matters. Treat your friend-turned-boss with respect and professionalism, recognizing their new position of authority.

Seek support for personal matters outside of the workplace and adapt to professional norms and expectations. By prioritizing work-related discussions, respecting boundaries, and maintaining professionalism, you can navigate the new dynamic effectively while preserving your friendship outside of work.

Balancing friendship and professionalism

Managing a friendship when your friend becomes your boss requires a delicate balance between maintaining a strong personal connection and upholding professionalism in the workplace. Throughout this article, we have explored valuable tips and insights to help you navigate this unique situation successfully.

By recognizing the shift in roles and establishing clear boundaries, you can set the foundation for a healthy working relationship. Open and honest communication, coupled with an understanding of each other's expectations, allows both parties to navigate the transition with clarity and respect.

Maintaining confidentiality and seeking feedback from your friend-turned-boss demonstrates your commitment to professionalism and growth. Simultaneously, nurturing relationships with other colleagues helps create a supportive network beyond your personal connection.

Embracing the opportunity for growth

Embracing change and approaching conflicts professionally are essential aspects of managing this dynamic. By focusing on personal growth, performance, and adaptability, you can thrive in your role while preserving the bond of friendship.

As you move forward in this unique situation, remember that striking the right balance between friendship and professionalism requires ongoing effort and understanding. It is a journey of growth, both individually and as a team.

By implementing the strategies discussed throughout this article, you can navigate the complexities of a friendship-turned-boss relationship with grace and integrity. Embrace the opportunity to evolve and learn, leveraging your personal connection to support each other's success in the workplace.

Maintaining a healthy relationship

Ultimately, a positive, professional, and rational attitude should be enough to get you through this tricky situation, helping to ensure you and your friend can maintain a good relationship and succeed in your jobs. By maintaining open communication, respecting boundaries, and prioritizing professionalism, you can foster a harmonious and fulfilling dynamic that benefits both your friendship and your professional aspirations.

Strive for mutual support, growth, and continued success as you navigate this unique journey together.

Principles to remember

Do:

  • Acknowledge your new leader and show a willingness to work collaboratively with them
  • Consider their perspective in order to support their success
  • Differentiate yourself by being prepared to voice concerns and address difficult topics when necessary

Don’t:

  • Everything's going to stay the same - it is natural for relationships to change and evolve over time as individuals grow
  • We've been friends forever - avoid expecting special treatment just because of past connections with the boss
  • Kiss up - it is important to avoid excessive flattery, as it may cause the new boss to be cautious

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