Why Can't We All Just Get Along? - Page 2

Sep 28, 2004

David Southgate

The Sexes

Even more damaging is the possibility that a friendship between a manager and a subordinate of the opposite sex could be misinterpreted as something sexual and snare a manager and a company in a nasty lawsuit.

"A non-sexual friendship or partnership is fine, as long as it doesn't cross the line from friendship to favoritism," said Goldsmith. "One thing managers have to be very sensitive today is a potential lawsuit. So you just have to err on the side of caution on issues involving that."

That means no off-color jokes, comments about appearance, or inappropriate physical contact.

Managers also need to recognize that if they're faced with difficult decisions, such as reprimanding or laying-off employees, that the friendship can be damaged in the process.

Philion recalls one instance regarding a boss/friend who was promoted to senior management. When Philion had a conflict with his old boss's replacement, Philion's former boss, now a C-level manager, ended up backing Philion's new boss.

"He had to back up the management the guy," said Philion. "Whereas I understood what he was doing, it upset me."

The incident contributed to the deterioration of their friendship, he admitted.

Team Building

Even with these possible downsides, technology managers such as Warren Seetahal with S.L Horsford and Co. in Basseterre, St. Kitts, said that being friends with the staff can go a long way to building a great team.

"I have a very stern method of dealing with staff during working hours but outside of that I can be friends with each one," said Seetahal.

He's able to maintain the respect of his employees while being friends with them by being very upfront about their relationship. The key to his success is direct communication, he said. He's very upfront telling his direct reports who he is, what his goals are and what they can expect from him.

"I would say, for example, that we would probably have a beer this afternoon, but remember we have a role in the company to perform, so even if we drink and laugh and even cuss and have fun, tomorrow is another day at the office and I expect the same respect as always."

Such communication is crucial for a manager's success, whether talking about the next project or the boss/friend dynamic. "You need to just communicate the boundaries," said Goldsmith.

If managers sincerely want friendships, they have to be sincere, avoid favoritism, use common sense regarding the law, and be direct and frank. With these guidelines, an IT supervisor can create a balance on the team, even during difficult management moments.

"Otherwise you find that staff can misinterpret the friendship and behave erratic and disrespectful especially when you are providing constructive criticism or 'pulling up their socks'," said Seetahal.

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