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Career Q&A | By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

When a friend becomes your boss

What if a friend becomes your boss? It’s natural to feel a sense of loss, but empathy can help avoid adversarial feelings.

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What if a friend becomes your boss? It’s natural to feel a sense of loss, but empathy can help avoid adversarial feelings.

Q: One of my co-workers was promoted to manage my department, and it seems to have gone to her head. We used to have a good working relationship, but I don't know quite how to cope with her new position and attitude.

A: Accept that things have changed, then look for new ways to work together successfully.

This is a sensitive situation. If you were friends, she may have been a confidant. Maybe you even used to grouse about your old boss. Now she's in that chair, and you're left behind.

It'd be natural to have mixed feelings. On one hand, you may be disappointed, jealous or feel a sense of loss for how things used to be. These feelings could easily interfere with your ability to establish a new relationship with her. Be honest with yourself about any negative feelings you have, and focus on mentally releasing them rather than dwelling on them.

You may be happy for her at the same time. After all, it's good to see your friends succeeding. It also provides an example for what you might accomplish in your career. Consider all the positive responses you have to the situation and cultivate these feelings.

Moving from the personal, think about roles in a company. In your view, what is the role of "the boss"? Realistically, it's up to the boss to assign work, provide oversight, correct errors, train team members and mentor development. Setting your emotions aside, assess to what extent your new boss is just doing her job.

Put yourself in her place. It's not easy to supervise former peers. You're under even more of a microscope than a manager promoted from a different team or brought in from outside because you're well-known. And she has lost her peer-level friendships, too. Imagining how she may be feeling may help you take a broader perspective.

Even after you've reflected on the past and tried to understand her perspective, there will be times when the new roles chafe on your nerves. These strategies can help in those moments:

Focus on her knowledge. You know the best of what she brings, so pay more attention to the advantages of having her as manager, compared with the disadvantage of having a new manager to break in.

Consider what you can learn from her. She was promoted for a reason, so focus on how you can learn from her example, either in terms of her past performance, or how she builds relationships in the organization.

Find new peer-level friends. It's up to you to move forward, transcending your sense of loss. Don't bond with new people over your new boss' perceived shortcomings. It will come back to haunt you.

Look forward in your own career. What are your goals? A move into management? More advancement in a staff-level role? Define what you need to do to get there, and start taking action.

Change is hard, but the bumps in the road can be overcome by focusing on the positive aspects.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

When a friend becomes your boss 07/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 6:48pm]
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