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How Close is Too Close? Balancing Work with Play Outside the Office

ICC September 6, 2018 0 Comments

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How Close is Too Close? Balancing Work with Play Outside the Office

By: Meredith Masse

The preponderance of data draws a direct link between social relationships at work to positive effects on productivity and our overall well-being. One survey, in fact, asks explicitly about having a best friend at work. But navigating friendships in the workplace can be tricky. A few important tips for avoiding getting too close:

Set and Manage Your Boundaries

I often think of the emerging leader who becomes the newly promoted “boss” to his or her team of former peers and is now responsible for managing “friends.” This leader is used to going out to lunch and out for drinks with the gang but wonders if that needs to change now that they in a supervisory role. Some of the biggest boundary-canceling obstacles with this transition are the feelings of fear, guilt, and self-doubt that can creep in. You might fear how the person will respond (e.g., angry, hurt) if you turn down a dinner and drinks invitation. You might feel guilty about skipping lunch with the team. The first step is giving yourself permission to set healthy boundaries and communicate — with a high degree of emotional intelligence — to your team the changes that have to happen to make sure you’re all successful in the new reporting relationship. There will be times when you question whether you even have the right to set boundaries. When doubts surface, recommit to having the permission to do so then work to preserve those boundaries.

Avoid Playing Favorites

Colleagues will notice when you choose the same individuals or groups, whether it’s for completing a project or going for happy hour. As much as possible, use performance-based measures and knowledge about special skills and natural talents to tap the best people for project teams. If there’s a real personality clash issue, have the courage to address this directly with any individual whose behaviors and choices signal they aren’t the best fit for a specific role or on a particular project team. If you’re ever concerned about whether you’re being perceived as one who plays favorites, get an outsider’s perspective. Seek the opinion of your direct manager or another trusted advisor about what they see happening in your work groups.

If you discover you tend to play favorites, or at least avoid a certain team member because they aren’t your favorite, try finding commonalities versus spending too much energy on your differences. Include that individual when the rest of the team makes plans for after-work fun. Find something you have in common and work to cultivate conversations around mutual interests. It’s hard not to have a different respect for someone who cheers on the same team or enjoys the same hobbies as you do.

Build Alliances Thoughtfully

At work, you have a mission no doubt. Whether it’s to improve quality and safety or reduce the amount of time it takes to fulfill customer orders, no matter how noble your mission, you likely cannot accomplish it alone. Taking the boundary idea to the next level, build your alliances giving thought to who your best partners are versus always tapping your closest friends. Indeed, who possesses unique abilities that can help you fulfill your mission and therefore meet the goals of your organization? Staying objective and being able to communicate why so-and-so was chosen for a certain role will go a long way in avoiding uncomfortable conversations around the water cooler as well as later at a social dinner.

Avoid Gossiping

Period. It may feel good and like a bonding activity in the moment. It will come back to bite you in the…well, you know. Just don’t do it.


If at any time you question whether the activity you’re planning or attending may put you in an uncomfortable situation with colleagues, best to err on the conservative side and take a rain check until the next opportunity.

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