Q. A colleague at work, who I consider a friend because we sometimes go out for lunch together and hang out once in a while after work, is my new boss. Already, I feel myself pulling away from her. I am confused, I just don’t know how to handle this awkward situation. I need help because I don’t know how to conduct myself around her anymore.
Relationships between colleagues can be as distinctly varied in nature as fingerprints, therefore it may be presumptuous to prescribe a mould that represents the ideal bond that should exist between a line manager and a direct report. A relationship that facilitates productivity and desired work results could take different forms and would ordinarily neither be adversarial nor too snug.
Levels of cordiality vary from one relationship between a line manager and a direct report to another based on many reasons, among them organisational culture, personality of the individuals involved, shared values and interests. More often than not, a working relationship can be as straightjacket or relaxed as the personal nature that supervisors bring into their interactions with direct reports.
It is unsurprising that you find yourself pulling away from your new boss as it is almost instinctive for many individuals to feel the need for some social distance between them and their bosses. While without it mutual respect could be undermined, social distance could also sadly be overstretched and misused by bosses to escape vulnerability, feed imperious detachment and nurse a condescending spirit.
You should not lose sleep concerning your friendship or the number of lunches shared with your boss, what matters is whether there is sufficient respect between the two of you to underpin a working relationship that does not compromise conversations and feedback concerning your work or the ability, on the part of your boss, to reach objective discipline and reward decisions relating to your performance and conduct.
All relationships evolve for various reasons, as yours will. You however need not lose a friend if that is what your new boss had become, as friendship and a good working relationship are not mutually exclusive. This notwithstanding, toe the friendship line and with time, you will find the right balance between respecting your boss and retaining your mutual congeniality.
As Diogenes the Greek philosopher wrote: ‘a man should live with his superiors as he does with his fire; not too near lest he burns; not too far off, lest he freezes.’