When Your Friend Becomes Your Supervisor

by Mary Bratcher, MA on Sep 01, 2007

How to handle a potentially awkward situation with grace.

The workplace is often where we end up meeting our greatest friends. In fact, some people spend more hours per day interacting with co-worker friends than with their own families. Tight bonds can form between peers, but what happens when the fitness friend you have been working with for years gets a promotion and is now, gulp, your supervisor! What if you also interviewed for that promotion, but it went to your friend instead? Here are some tips for dealing with this situation so you can preserve your friendship—and your job.

Acknowledge the New Situation
The moment your friend becomes your supervisor, things are going to change— not only in your professional relationship but in your personal relationship as well. The first action you should take is to formally acknowledge that you will both have to make some adjustments. Ask your friend if you can sit down together to talk about the new work dynamics. Although your friend is certain to be excited about her promotion, she is probably feeling anxious about the same issues you are, so it is essential to get them out in the open.

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.

Deal With Your Feelings
Let's face it. If a friend gets promoted over you (especially for a position you wanted), you are bound to have some residual feelings to resolve if you want to sustain your friendship and your job. While you may initially feel slighted, overlooked or neglected by management, remember not to take things personally. Management's decision likely involved many factors beyond those you were aware of, so respect and do your best to support the choice that was made, for the benefit of your clients and other employees.

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.

Get Back to Business
Once you have adjusted to the new work arrangements, the best thing you can do for yourself and your friend is to focus on your own job. Try to shine in your work performance. Revamp your workout routines or classes, suggest new training opportunities for staff, update and organize your client files or offer to head up new client promotions. In short, do whatever you can to remind yourself why you enjoy your job. Turning your attention to the fun aspects of your work will take your mind off the potential awkwardness of having a friend as a supervisor. Getting back to business will also give your friend and other managers a positive reason to notice you. It may even provide you with a chance to build or strengthen friendships with other co-workers, which will help make up for the decreased interaction with your friend.

Be a T.R.U.E. Friend
Communication and willingness to compromise are the keys to maintaining any relationship—particularly in this type of situation. Remember the following tips to help you and your friend make the work transition as smooth as possible:

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.

SIDEBAR: When You Become The Supervisor of a Friend
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.

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About the Author

Mary Bratcher, MA

Mary Bratcher, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Mary Bratcher (MA, DipLC) is a Wellness Coach with nearly 20 years of counseling experience. She incorporates concepts from psychology and life coaching to help people develop better strategies for dealing with life's demands. She uses a practical, solution-based approach to life that helps people identify, approach, and resolve problematic issues. Mary has worked as a life coach in many countries including North America, England, and New Zealand. She specializes in small business development and resolution of psychological factors that contribute to musculoskeletal pain. Mary is a published author, professional speaker, media consultant, and faculty member for the American Council on Exercise. She is also an Associate Director of Content for PTontheNET and a member of the PTA Global Board of Directors. Mary has developed numerous continuing education courses for fitness professionals and is the co-creator of The BioMechanics Methodâ„¢ educational program which provides exercise solutions for chronic pain (www.thebiomechanicsmethod.com). She is also the co-owner of The BioMechanics, a San Diego-based facility that specializes in helping people alleviate muscle and joint pain. CEC provider for: ACE