When Andrea Sanchez, 29, scored a big new title at her marketing firm, she was initially worried about one employee: her friend and former peer Sara Pence, 24. She was used to sharing details about her dating life with Pence; now she was her boss. Pence also had reservations: “I wondered, Can I still tell her if I had a few too many drinks over the weekend?” But now, a few months in, both agree their relationship has prospered. Why? “We keep the lines of communication open and are honest with each other,” says Sanchez.
These two make it sound easy, but managing (or reporting to) a friend can be far trickier. Since it happens more and more—research shows that one in three adults meets at least one close friend on the job—we have advice on making it work.
Scenario: One of you gets promoted.
If You’re the (New) Boss: Celebrate, then lay some rules of engagement, says Ben Michaelis, Ph.D., a New York City clinical psychologist and author of Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy. Set a dinner date to discuss how you’ll support your friend without playing favorites. Maybe you’ll decide she can vent to you but not ask you to cover for her while she sneaks out for a manicure.
If You’re the Staffer: Feeling knee-jerk jealousy? Michaelis suggests reality-checking those emotions. “Often people realize the position wouldn’t have been right for them anyway,” he says. And use verbal boundaries to clarify your role, he says. You could say, “As someone who reports to you, I think…but as your friend, I’d advise.…” Then your boss-friend can decide which perspective she wants to hear.
Scenario: The conversation turns to company gossip.
If You’re the Boss: Shut down the convo in a kind way. Michaelis suggests saying something like, “You know how much I value your friendship, but out of respect for our work relationship, I can’t talk about that.”
If You’re the Staffer: Focus on points of connection beyond office gossip. And if you can’t? “There probably wasn’t much to your friendship to begin with,” says Michaelis.
Scenario: Things get heated during a meeting.
If You’re the Boss: Pick up the conversation “offstage” later, as you would with any employee. If you’re afraid things might veer into the personal, bring in a neutral third person to keep things professional.
If You’re the Staffer: Be aware that you might feel inappropriately comfortable challenging your boss because you’re friends; you also might feel more personally attacked. Take a beat: How would you handle the situation if she was just your boss? “The key isn’t to avoid conflict,” says Michaelis. “Just do it with respect. Good relationships are hardier than people think.”
This article was originally published on Glamour