Can You Ever Be Friends With Your Boss?

Everyone expects to have a great relationship with their boss, someone who will work with them daily, offering career advice, performance reviews and even a recommendation for a promotion if he or she believes in you. Though we’d like to think we work in a truly egalitarian system, a boss who is a friend is more likely to trust you with information, agree to vacation requests or a flexible work schedule, and perhaps most importantly, pick you for high priority projects and assignments.

Even though you spend most of your time with people you work with, and becoming friends is often natural with many of your peers, having a personal relationship with a supervisor is much more complicated and requires some navigation.

Here are the my 5 tips on how to make that happen:

  1. Understand his or her measures: Your manager’s measures are his or her priorities. Align your goals, priorities and even language with your manager’s so that teamwork happens naturally. (This is also called mirroring.) This is the most important thing you can do to support your manager’s job. And by doing so, you will quickly realize the whole company should work with this way –cooperatively.
  2. Refer the best people you know to work with your manager when an opportunity arises: Many times people just ignore a manager’s request and leave it to the H.R. Department to do the hiring. Then after they hire someone who is a bad fit, you start to regret not having recommended someone better. If you do recommend someone, do due diligence before your refer them. If they aren’t someone you know directly, but a friend of a friend, meet them for a coffee to see if they fit the job requirements and company culture. I learned a valuable lesson here when I referred someone I didn’t know well, but looked good on paper. Five years later, he’s still at the company but he lost some big deals and this reflects poorly on me for having suggested him for the position.
  3. Be honest. Stay away from office politics: If your manager believes you are honest with him, you will gain his trust and confidence. Don’t give into gossip or office politics because some small perceived betrayal might destroy the credibility that took you a long time to build. A relationship that’s based on a Machiavellian power play isn’t likely to be a strong one, and you run a higher risk of it ending in disaster, especially if your manager senses that you’re getting close to him to advance your own career.
  4. Don’t advertise your special relationship: Managers want to treat everyone on their staff equally, so keep your friendship professional at the office. Being too intimate is not only dangerous to him, but also to you. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be accused of advancing your career only through favoritism. Part of being friends with people you work with is understanding where and how to draw professional boundaries, and how to be friendly without crossing those lines.
  5. Treat them as would your normal friends: Ultimately, they are normal people. When you aren’t at the office, resist treating them as a superior in your social interactions. Try to understand them as a fellow human being, not just someone who can open doors for you. You can and should care about your managers as people and develop warm and supportive relationships, but you also need to preserve the boundaries that make it possible for you to be effective at your job and doesn’t lead you or them into seeing the relationship as something it can’t be as long as you’re in a position of such authority over them.

Once you build up a good relationship with your manager, you will realize how much you will gain from it. At the same time, your company will also benefit from such a relationship through better teamwork, less conflict and greater employee satisfaction. Also, adding your boss to your network of friends will help you show that you have a life outside of work, so you can request for some time off to cultivate your work-life balance.