I'm joining a new company, and I already know one of my coworkers. In fact, she's one of my dearest friends. While neither of us outranks the other, we will be working together closely. She's suggested that she's excited to have a friend at the office, but I want to be her colleague at work, not BFF. How can I set boundaries with our relationship at work without hurting our relationship?
If your relationship with your friend is as close as you suggest, this new dynamic can best be dealt with in a straightforward and honest way. Say something like, “I’m really looking forward to working with you, too. But tell me — have you had the same thoughts I’ve had about how we should navigate our friendship as it moves in and out of the office?”
If she acknowledges she’s had the same thoughts, it’s easy to begin the dialogue. Now it’s just a matter of addressing it and coming up with some ground rules for yourselves. If it hadn’t occurred to her yet, you’ve made an honest, vulnerable admission in a way that should open the door to a productive conversation.
Either way, as you talk, give some thought to expressing that your overarching care for each other will stay consistent, but it may manifest differently in a personal setting versus a business environment.
For both of you to be successful at work, you will need the support of your boss and coworkers. That’s a hard thing to do if you’re seen as a clique with loyalties to each other instead of the company. At work, the best situation for each of you is to be seen as committed to the success of the business first and foremost. Your colleagues and superiors will respect and understand that dynamic without feeling threatened by your friendship.
It may also help to throw some “what ifs” at each other when they truly are hypothetical. For instance, “What if one of us gets promoted and the other doesn’t? What if one of us winds up managing the other? What if the boss seems to favor one of us over the other?” Office dynamics are seldom static over time, so talk out future scenarios now when no one’s feelings are on the line.
Finally, the secret to staying friends is your willingness to keep an open dialogue as you move forward and encounter real situations. Confront feelings as they arise, empathetically work through them, remembering why your friendship is important to each of you, then move past them together.
Christine Tardio is a trusted advisor and business coach to a dynamic range of women business leaders. She can be reached at thelookinglass.com.