Friendships at work can be tricky. At least, they can be if the definition of friendship means you are not honest with each other. Earlier this week I was chatting with someone who hired his friend to work for him as part of his small construction crew. The friend/employee had a pattern of showing up late, leaving early, and complaining while on the job. The boss was really honest, letting the employee/friend know that the behavior was unacceptable on the job. The behavior did not change, so the boss gave the feedback again, and said that the friendship itself was at risk.
I admire his integrity. A lot of people are not honest with friends, who are supposed to agree with you and be loyal. But that is not my definition of friendship. For me, true friendship requires the ability to be direct and honest, with respect and kindness. I have developed many friendships in the workplace, and the ones that have lasted are the ones where there is true, honest communication. Working together to achieve real success often requires working through some difficult challenges, and when the going gets tough that’s often when you find out if the work friendships are true friends. When one person’s performance puts the success of a team at risk, it is the responsibility of a team mate to say so. I have had this kind of experience significantly deepen my friendships at work and make them stronger. I have also had it result in a complete breakdown in the relationship and anger directed my way, when my team mate believed that my role as a friend was to always agree and never give difficult feedback, to put the friendship over work performance. That was really hard. In this situation I reflected on my own behavior, wondering if I did something wrong, whether I did in fact violate some rule of friendship. But I don’t think so. Work and friendship can co-exist and even thrive, as long as honest feedback and dialogue is present. If not direct dialogue does not exist, then both work performance and friendship suffer.