In a recent workshop with women business-owners and consultants, I stepped into a moment of pride as I shared the list of reasons many of us decide to go into business for ourselves. Of course, flexibility and choice of projects and clients top the list, and then there are the days you never leave your sweatpants.
But hands down, one of my favorite perks of running my own company is creating opportunities to work with friends.
In my corporate career prior to my transition to coaching, I was a leader fueled by connection and often built lasting friendships with colleagues. That said, since those were relationships that began within a career context—the lines of how to jump back and forth between the personal and professional were drawn within my muscle memory. It felt natural.
I’ve come to realize that while this felt easy for me—perhaps because I witnessed the modeling of strong, clear leaders doing it well or because I lean toward a style of over-communication—it is something that can present a challenge for many in both their own businesses and in corporate roles. Often I see clients in the midst of corporate restructurings and their colleagues, now friends, are being moved above or below them. It can feel awkward. It can bring up fear and anxiety for all involved. But as I like to say in session, “What if you looked at it in a completely different way?”
When you get the opportunity to work with or even for your friends, that’s when your career can become another level of fun.
Here are some ways I work with clients to address the anxiety of this transition so they can reap the benefits that are possible on the other side.
1. Set clear boundaries
Give yourself time for a deep think on what boundaries will make this relationship feel safe for you in both a personal and professional setting. Do you want to remind your friend of what personal things you would not want revealed at the office? Or do you want to ban all talk of the personal while at work? And vice-versa, when you’re out with your friend at a dinner or gathering feel free to tap her on the shoulder to say, “Let’s not talk about work the whole time.” When you are both clear about where to draw the lines, you can enjoy the benefits and efficiencies of working with someone you truly respect and admire as a human.
2. Create a habit of transparent communication
When the sticky moments arise, which they inevitably will, push through the discomfort. Be honest, vulnerable and clear. The more you can build this into a habit for your communication with your friend—both at and outside of work—the more comfort you will gain. You may have to talk about money. You will disagree. Set expectations that you know these things will come up and that sometimes you will both squirm, but you are committed to working through anything because this relationship is important to you.
3. Discuss what would create a win-win
If your friend has now become your boss, you may be looking at this situation from all of its negative angles. And, as with any aspect of life, if you seek the negative, you are sure to find it. That said, how can you look at this scenario so that you both get what you want? You can work together to discuss what success could look like for each of you, and then forge forward supporting each other in getting to those goals. Remove egos and the opinions of everyone else. Who cares how this looks to others. Become champions for each other’s goals. Become a power team.
While I clearly have my POV here and have experienced the joy of working with my people, only you can be the judge of whether you’re in a relationship that can span these two worlds. If boundaries and communication are tough in a personal relationship, most likely they will be challenging in the professional realm as well. That said, in the friendships where it does work, you can get so skilled at navigating these dual relationships that you can build a shorthand where the communication happens in a look, a tap on the shoulder or an emoji-only text. While this process may feel complex or fraught, remember we spend the majority of our time in our work, so why not choose to spend it with the people in our inner circle.