Use diplomacy as friend’s boss

Dear Joan:
My position at work requires me to supervise several of my close friends. These friends consist of close social acquaintances and two roommates. Often, I find myself in a situation where I must bring to the attention of the employees things that they are doing incorrectly. Sometimes I am forced to discipline their actions. The problem arises when one of these employees tries taking advantage of our friendship.

On one occasion, I was instructing an employee how to use a machine. But, instead of paying attention, he was talking to other employees and not learning about the machine. I ignored the situation. When the employee came back to me asking how to use the machine, I told him that he would have known if he had been paying attention in the first place. I then proceeded to show him how to use the machine. After the incident, the employee jokingly told his friend about how much of a jerk his boss was. He said it loud enough that I could hear it. I again ignored the comment.

On another occasion I spotted the same employee goofing off on the job. My manager spotted this also and instructed me to type up a written warning concerning the employee's actions. I was forced to sit down with the employee and discuss what his misbehavior was and what the written warning meant. Afterwards, the employee was joking about it with his friends and other employees.

After another incident that required a written reprimand, I suggested to the employee to take his job a bit more seriously. I then brought up our relationship. I told him that our relationship at work should be conducted in a more business-like manner on his behalf. I also suggested that what happens at work should be kept at work, for the most part.

I now find that this employee has all but crawled into a shell at work. This has affected his communications with me and other employees, which is critical to running an efficient work place. I don't have this problem with any other employees. What should I do?

Your friend's behavior is immature but you must also be careful not to act like the "parent" who preaches or acts superior. This situation is extremely sensitive and will be a true test of your interpersonal skills. In the end, though, it is your friend who will determine how this situation will end.

I picked up a tone in your letter that may have been part of the reason your friend reacted the way he did. When you told him, "You would have known how to operate this machine if you had been paying attention," and, "I suggest that you take your job a bit more seriously," you may have sounded like a critical parent or teacher. I agree with the message you were sending; it's just the tone of voice and the choice of words you need to weigh.

Managing others often requires more art than science. The way you approached this problem performer was scientifically perfect. Now, let's focus on the art of dealing with a friend whose ego is bruised and who is confusing an informal friendship with a formal working relationship. It will require you to shift gears from a letter perfect, by-the-book boss to more of a caring friend.

Your friend doesn't understand that a boss/employee relationship operates under certain unspoken rules. He is having difficulty relating to you in your position of authority and expects you to treat him as a peer. The only way out of this is to discuss it with him outside of work as a peer and explain how the rules change when you are his boss.

Whatever you do, don't talk down to him. Rather, talk to him friend-to-friend about how this whole incident has troubled you and how much you would like to work it out. Apologize if he says you have acted righteous or superior and explain that you have been struggling with your end of the relationship, too. Handling power and authority is never easy but when your employees are your friends, it's particularly tough. Ask him to try to put the shoe on the other foot. Explain your boss's requirements and the pressure that puts on you to do your job above and beyond your friendship.

Tell him how important his input is to the work and how his withdrawal has affected everyone involved. Offer to meet him halfway and start over with a new understanding about your respective roles and responsibilities. If he is unwilling to bend after you have taken the first step, there is nothing more you can do as a friend or a boss. His future on this job depends on the choice he wants to make.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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