Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant

How to manage childish boss behavior and thrive in your job

Can You Be Friends With Your Boss?

Where should you draw the friendship line at work?

Most of the time there is a clear line drawn between your business relationship with your boss and having a true friendship. But what if your BFF just became your boss? While it seems like a good idea to mix business and friendship with your boss, the glory might be overrated.

There is no formula on just how friendly to be with your manager. But when your boss moves from friendly into the slippery territory of being “your friend,” you might find yourself on an emotional roller coaster. You may run the gamut from feeling extra job security—“I could never lose my job now; I’m personal friends with my boss”—to depressed, because you didn’t get that coveted project.

You may experience a false sense of security. After all, you’ve got an imbalanced friendship; she still has the authority to fire you. But would she? Also consider the potential for envious co-workers that could lead to sabotage—and the constant need to prove that you’re not just simply liked, as you're indeed a hard worker and excellent performer.

When you’re the boss's buddy or favorite, he or she may not realize that you're suddenly receiving less cooperation from the team. You're at work to deliver the best results and enjoy it, but now you have the pressure of living up to the infallible, invincible you.

So how do you draw the line at favoritism or being perceived as the “boss’s pet”? It can be a tricky tightrope to walk. Here are some suggestions to help you maintain your balance.

• Keep it professional; you're not at work to amuse or befriend your boss, and feeding into any over-the-top friendship will make it difficult for you to get cooperation from the people you most need it from: your peers. Your professionalism will win respect and keep your co-workers from going on the offense.

• Set up regular meetings with your manager; try to help your boss avoid impulsive needs to overly depend on you as a confidante, which can make you less productive. It’s okay to have lunch meetings, especially when the topic relates to business. The workplace can always use more humanity, but you don't need to be your boss's Happy Hour partner.

• Be able to say “No” to your newfound friend, who is also handing you a never-ending pile of projects. It could start to feel manipulative, so keep your radar up. Say something like, "I have multiple projects that now need some prioritization; can we discuss this?" Or, attempt to share the love: “What do you think of my sharing this project with James? I think he’d be an asset to this assignment because of xyz.” By sharing some of the work and glory, you'll make your work life a lot more palatable.

• Constantly gauge whether your relationship with your boss is getting in the way of your results or ability to interface with others on a respectful, even-handed basis.

• Don’t get carried away with any perceived new power you feel you’ve earned. You may not realize that you project having a deeper understanding of what the boss wants. That's a virtual minefield for establishing support from not only your peers, but other senior managers as well, who may also covet that special attention.

• If you’re the boss, and you’re trying to befriend one of your staff, keep in mind that if you become too chummy, you could be faced with a difficult conflict of interest. How are you going to offer constructive criticism to your buddy? What if you need to fire your friend? You may not garner the same respect or be taken as seriously as you did when you were on a more cordial basis.

Of course some of this depends on your personalities, the office culture and how you work best with your co-workers. Still, the safest bet is to be friendly with everyone, but not necessarily hangout buddies with your boss, or even co-workers. A more humanized workplace is always a legitimate pursuit—but it’s challenging to do a stellar job when you have the unwanted reputation of Super Schmoozer.

Lynn Taylor is a workplace expert specializing in boss and employee dynamics; she is the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant

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