How to handle a potentially awkward situation with grace.
Here are some of the biggest areas of adjustment that you and your new supervisor/friend will have to talk about:
Lunches and Breaks. The two of you may have spent your free time at work hanging out between clients or eating lunch together. Now that your friend has more responsibilities, she may not have much time to socialize at work. Accept the fact that your social interactions during work hours will decrease.
Topics of Conversation. The types of things (and people) you discuss at work will alter drastically as a result of your friend's new position. Previously, you may have shared opinions about certain policies, other co-workers or even management. However, your friend is now in a role that requires more diplomacy. You should understand that it may not be appropriate to vent to your new supervisor about things or people you discussed together in the past.
Management Restrictions. In her role as a manager, your friend will be unable to share certain information with you. At times she will be required to maintain confidentiality and withhold details from other employees, including you. Be considerate of the fact that she now has different job responsibilities and additional loyalties to the company, and do not insist that she include you in the loop.
Once you have talked about these changes with your friend, you will both feel less anxious about how the new work situation will affect your friendship. You will enter this new phase of your working relationship with clear expectations and the opportunity to strengthen your personal connection.
You must also be vigilant not to pressure your friend for special favors or attention. If you arrive late for a session or class, or miss a staff meeting, do not presume your friend can or will simply overlook it. More important, don't get upset if she calls you out for your behavior or work performance. You cannot expect your new supervisor to treat you more favorably than other staff members—and you certainly should not feel irritated when she does not.
Take a Step Back. You should both try to remove yourselves from the emotion of the event and look at the reality of how your relationship will change. Discuss aspects of your friendship that will alter, and plan accordingly. For example, your different schedules may not allow you to have lunch together as often as you did in the past, so arrange times to meet for a chat or a meal, even if it is outside of work hours.
Respect the New Boundaries of Your Work Relationship. Talk with your friend and let him know that you realize things can no longer be the same. Ask him what work elements he sees changing for him, and tell him about any concerns you have. Keep in mind that this situation is new for both of you and, as a result, you need to reformulate the parameters of your professional relationship.
Understand What Is Required of You as a Subordinate. Remember that management has certain expectations regarding the behavior of junior staff. Like it or not, your friend is now your boss and you should conduct yourself with him as you would with any other member of management. Do not compromise your friend's position or work reputation by using your friendship to gain access to privileged information or special treatment.
Expand Your Own Opportunities. While you may have been passed over for promotion this time, it's not the end of the world. In fact, it could be just what you need to spur your own growth. If you feel you are ready to take on more responsibility and there are no more management openings at your current facility, venture out and see what else is available.
Although the advantages of having your friend become your supervisor may seem few, nothing could be further from the truth. Challenges like this can strengthen the bonds of friendship tremendously, since you must both deepen your appreciation and compassion for each other in order to maintain your personal and professional roles.
What do you do if the tables are turned and you find yourself in the supervisor position? Use these tips to help yourself handle the situation professionally:
• If you have never been a manager before, consider taking a management skills workshop or reading a business skills development book to help you understand your new position and responsibilities.
• Be upfront and honest with your friend about what you need and expect from her, both as an employee and as a pal.
• Treat your friend with respect in front of other staff members, but refrain from being "chummy."
• Never discuss management issues with your friend, either in or outside of the workplace.
• Do not make exceptions or grant personal favors for your friend; doing so could jeopardize your position and create resentment among other staff members.
• Do not feel pressure to "make amends" to your friend just because you got promoted. Your friendship and job performance will suffer— which will make neither of you feel any better.
Mary Bratcher, MA, DipLC, is a wellness coach and co-owner of The BioMechanics in San Diego. For over a decade, she has used principles from psychology and life coaching to help people develop better strategies for dealing with life's demands. She is also a presenter, an author and a continuing education specialist for ACE.