The Friendzone

Working in Student Affairs you receive material about management and supervision styles all the time.

  • How to lead
  • how to motivate
  • how to create a team
  • how to create a team that you can lead with motivation
  • etc., etc., etc…

So naturally going into the women’s leadership series this morning, I was ready to hear how I as a woman could be a better manager.

For the most part I believe I am on the right track. Our speaker said some really great things that made me feel good about my personal views of the workforce and the plans I have for myself. She also shared a lot of the same work ethic philosophies that I had. In all, it was an energizing session to see a successful business woman as a role model, even if you only see her for an hour and a half session.

But I need to unpack some reactions that I am having to one particular statement.

She made a comment that it is very difficult to have friends in the workplace and be successful. This woman explained further that she did not mean she could not have sincere relationships with people at her job, but they just could not be her close friends and confidants.

Keep in mind that she is a “top dog” in her field.

I am 50/50 about this statement.

On the one hand I would agree with this, if the people at work are people that I supervise. These were some lessons I had to learn the hard way when I first became a supervisor. It is very difficult to be real friends with those that you supervise. You need to be able to draw that line for a myriad of reasons. I found that I could not keep them accountable as well if I was always concerned about whether they would like me. I needed to be able to remove myself from that social circle so I could be impartial in all arenas. It is ok to make unpopular decisions if it is the best for the end result, which can be tricky if you are always trying to become friends.

This is not to say that I did not care for those that I supervised. I truly did care about what was happening to them. I would cry with them, laugh with them, and defend them if needed. I wanted them to succeed, and would work to find environments/situations that would bring the best out of them. I was invested in their lives. But I knew when to challenge them and keep them accountable to their job, which was ultimately our relationship. This is just my opinion, but I think having a true friendship can cloud that work relationship. That doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly and show that you care. See how it gets tricky?

I remember telling Tom on many occasions that there were some of my students who would be my friends if we met in different circumstances, but the truth is I was there to make sure a job got done, not to find my new bestie. And this woman reminded me of the why. As a supervisor you need to show that you have the strength to hold things together and be the leader. It is hard to show weakness as a supervisor-I had to undergo the repercussions of doing so on a few occasions. You need to have friends outside of the workspace so you can let loose and be vulnerable so you are able to have that strong mentality while at work. I am not sure I would always be able to be on top of my game and be able to make some tough decisions if I was always worried that it would make our outing that weekend tense and awkward. Your friends are supposed to be people that you have no reservations around, and for me anyway I am not sure this is completely possible with the work responsibilities.

But this is just my own view of supervising students….

So I got to thinking about how this may look from a professional standpoint. Will it be the same as I continue on in my journey in Student Affairs?

To be honest, I am not completely sure this theory of no friends in the workplace can apply to all facets and all fields.

For example, when Tom and I talked about this at dinner, he said, “Yea, that’s not really an option where I work. You can’t big spoon little spoon in a sleeping bag with a business acquaintance.

So I can’t say that I completely buy into that you shouldn’t make friends at work. I don’t know if I would want to work that way the rest of my life. Then it just becomes about getting a paycheck and doing the time, which believe me is extremely boring and exhausting. I think about my profession and look at some of the people who I view as role models and I see them very successful but also having close friendships in our field. And some of my closest friends are those I met at work. I think that is why it has been so difficult to move from one job to the next. But in thinking about it, most of my close friends have been people who are at the same level as I am so there was never a supervision dynamic there.

Then I start thinking about my relationship with my supervisors. Some I respect and think the world of them, some have become mentors and my go to people in a work crisis (and often life crisis), some I don’t like but I respect enough to keep working for them, and some I just tolerate and do what they say to keep my head above water, and some I don’t respect and completely disregard what they say because of their lack of–well lots of things.

But was I ever really friends with them? And did that supposed friendship–or lack there of–impact how I felt about them as a supervisor? My mind is rolling…

I guess my two cents is I think you can have friends at work. I think you need to first look at what your work relationship is and whether or not you can see a personal friendship negatively impacting that role in anyway. Only you can define that for yourself because ultimately you have to live with the decisions you make. You have to think about the risk and rewards and see what you are willing to put on the line and at what cost. I personally don’t believe that I need to be friends with everyone that I work with. I want real authentic friends, and if I find that at work great, but if I don’t I am not going to force it. I will however be friendly and reach out to people that I work with to make sure we are doing what we can for the common good of our institution. But I think sometimes people do mistake this for a need for a true friendship. I will be kind and friendly to you, but we don’t have to hang out every weekend to have a positive work relationship or to create trust. That may rub people the wrong way, especially in a touchy feely profession like Student Affairs, but that’s my truth.

So maybe I do agree with this woman more like 70/30.

Although if you do have friends at work you may just have the newest hit on TV…

What are your thoughts on friends in the workplace?

Can you have them to be successful?

Do you put your supervisors or those you supervise in the friendzone?

2 thoughts on “The Friendzone

  1. I pretty much completely agree with everything you said in your reflection. I have found some fantastic friends on my campus…but we either have nothing to do with each other work-wise (as in, our departments or roles really don’t cross paths too much) or we’re at the same level and collaborate on a common topic. The friendship topic is a hard one because we crave having an ally, someone we can vent our frustrations, or someone to celebrate the victories with. It’s hard not to clamp on to the first person who has something in common with you, especially if you’re the new person. Must have been a great speaker.

  2. I know this is an older post, but I read it when you first posted it and I just haven’t gotten around to commenting until now! I wanted to say that I kind of agree with not being friends with coworkers. I think you can (and should!) be friendly. I think friendships can be born at work. (My BFF and I met when we were both RA’s in college in the same dorm.) It can just get really sticky keeping things professional and keeping your friendship strong when you are good friends with a coworker. (Said BFF once told on me at work and got me in trouble, but we weren’t good friends at the time, so no harm done to our friendship. If we had been friends then, it would have been way more complicated!)

    As far as the supervisor as a friend, I’m definitely against it. If you think of it from a distance, imagine your boss being friends with your coworker and going out to happy hour with them and not you, that sounds like a recipe for disaster. (That’s basically my former principal in a nutshell; she played favorites big time.) Great topic! I even talked about it when my husband and we had a really interesting discussion!

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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