Drawing the Line

If you are thinking of developing a friendship with someone you manage, there are some things you have to think about as that relationship progresses.

I broke the rule! Everyone told me not to break it, but I didn’t listen. You know, that rule about not developing personal relationships with the people you manage.

Being so “smart,” I thought I could do it differently. I would be the exception to the rule. I was a manager who could keep work and personal life separate. I mean, we are a small company, after all. Where else am I going to make friends? So I dove in and started a personal relationship with one of my team members.

We had amazing experiences because we became terrific friends. We had great dinners, traveled the world together, and laughed a lot. It was a joy until it wasn’t. While our friendship was blossoming, the work, well, it was suffering.

If you are thinking of developing friendships with people you manage, there are some things you have to think about as that relationship progresses. Here are some lessons I have learned:

Friendship Goggles

We have all heard of beer goggles, but what about friendship goggles? I’m not sure if that’s a term already floating around, but I certainly had them on. When I was reviewing performance, I saw things through our friendship and not through a professional lens.

Things taking longer than they should? Are deadlines being missed?

“It’s my friend; they wouldn’t take advantage of my kindness. I must provide more time since I must have had unreasonable expectations in the first place.”

Lack of creativity and proactivity?

“My friend is just going through something right now. They are so busy/stressed/going through personal things and need some compassion. We can work on this later.”

No matter the area, I always added a buffer and then another buffer. I was defending my friend to myself because I was shielding that personal attachment. All the while, the work performance was just not there.

Rosy Feedback

When it came to feedback, it was practically impossible to give a real evaluation of how things were going. Since I had a close relationship, I kept focusing on all of the good stuff. We want to highlight and celebrate the good as managers, but not when it comes to neglecting the not-so-good, and sometimes the bad.

This resulted in me inflating my friend’s ego. My friend thought they were more qualified and experienced than they were. This led to a sense of overconfidence that didn’t help when I had to give feedback.

My recommendations, ideas, and tasks were not taken seriously. Often, requests were just disregarded. My friend thought they were doing a great job, so why would that need to change? I became that crazy friend who offers up unsolicited advice. You know the type. Except it wasn’t advice, it was a direct request to change.

Sigh! Nothing was progressing.

Accepting Excuses

If I look back at the incredibly long list of excuses I have received for something not happening, lack of [insert whatever], need for efficiency, not using tools, etc., I am the one to blame. None of these excuses would be accepted from any other team member, but it was my friend. I took all of the excuses at face value.

Since I had a different mindset, discipline was non-existent because who would want to discipline a friend? I certainly didn’t, and I avoided it like the plague. In any case, it would have been ineffective, since it wouldn’t have been taken seriously.

Hitting the Fan

When enough was finally enough, everything came crashing down quickly, including our friendship. There comes the point when things HAVE to change, and you HAVE to make hard choices. As I watched my friendship start to take a real financial toll on the company, I had to act.

Not only did I have to deal with the stress of managing a difficult employee, I also had to accept the wrath of a friend who was hurt. Life was stressful on both ends. My work life was intense, and that same intensity carried over into my personal life. My life was spiraling out of control.

And this situation was my own doing.

So what did I learn from the experience in the end? You may be dealing with one of the nicest people on Earth, and you have so much in common. But, even if it feels like the person is practically your twin, STAY AWAY! Keep your personal and professional relationships separate. You might go in with the best intentions, but maintaining those lines becomes difficult.

Kevin James Saunders is a trainer at Oculus Training Group, a Canadian-based corporate training and mystery shopping company offering sales management, reservations, sensitivity, and customer service training programs for a variety of service-based industries throughout Canada, the U.S., and the world. For more information, call 888.OCULUS4 or visit www.oculustraining.com. You also can connect with Oculus on Twitter @oculustraining, via e-mail at peoplecare@oculustraining.com or visit it on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.