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Friend and Boss: How to discipline employees when they are also your friends

Having a friendly and productive rapport is something that all bosses dream of. The ability to bond with your team only makes your professional relationships stronger, allowing you to achieve more together. Despite how incredible these relationships are, they become incredibly awkward when trouble seems to be brewing. It’s hard enough to use your authority to correct a team member’s behavior. It’s even harder when that team member is someone you consider to be a friend. If your work friends need a push in the right direction, you can give them the push they need without damaging your friendship.

Angry boss dismissing employee for bad underperformance

Utilize Your Personal Knowledge

Having an established relationship with the employee you need to discipline puts you at a unique advantage. You understand this person. You probably have a good idea of the external and personal factors currently affecting them. Use this knowledge to create your approach when the time comes to speak to them. You know how to best deliver bad news. You know what gets on their nerves and what they may take too personally. Consider the way he or she perceives things when planning how to say what you need to say.

Act as Soon as Possible

Ideally, you want to act before the disciplinary situation becomes a full blown problem. If you’ve noticed some behavior that’s hindering your ability to achieve success or tension impacting the workplace as a result of a particular team member, addressing it immediately will prevent things from getting out of control.

If its too late to act preemptively, act as soon as you realize you need to. Allowing the problem to continue will only make things more difficult and nuanced when you bring them up. You might be dreading the conversation, but it will only be harder the longer you wait. Get to it immediately.

Get to the Heart of The Matter

Try to bring up one or two specific points. Focusing on peripheral issues or things that aren’t really substantial problems may make your work friend feel harshly criticized or unfairly judged. If you have smaller things to address that aren’t pressing, save them for another time. You don’t want a small issue to become the straw that breaks the camel’s back, escalating tensions and making recovery from the situation more difficult than it needs to be.

While disciplining the employee, consider the things that you can do to help them. Is the problem with the employee relating to burnout and disillusionment with their current position? Perhaps it’s time to help facilitate a lateral move or transfer of positions and hire someone else to assume the job that’s frustrating them. Is a lack of resources or support causing them to lash out from all of the stress they feel like they’re under? Create a better system for this employee so that he or she doesn’t feel unfairly treated.

Build Them Up

A lot of factors combine to create a strong company culture. Sometimes it’s flexible scheduling. It can even be as simple as having the most comfortable chairs and the best office snacks to sit in while people munch on them. One of the most important parts of a strong company culture is celebration and recognition. Balancing uncomfortable conversations with celebration and recognition keeps employees from feeling pessimistic.

When you’re telling the employee about all the things they did wrong, you should also tell them about all the things they did right. A great leader will always give respect when it’s due. Your friend needs to know they’re still valued and important, despite a few missteps that may have caused bumps in the road. Explain this person’s value at the same time, and let them know you value them enough to help them work through whatever is going on.

Let Things Settle Down

Even if your disciplinary situation went beautifully, your work friend might still feel a little weird about things. That’s fine. Let some time pass and allow this person to approach you and resume normal activity as soon as they feel comfortable to do so. Respect his or her space and don’t treat the person any differently. If you’re truly friends, it’s only a matter of time before the awkward undertones slowly drift away.

It’s possible to do your job while still remaining a great friend. Your work friend will understand why you had to do what you had to do. As long as you’re gentle and approach the situation tactfully, you’ll be able to accomplish what you set out to accomplish without any lingering hard feelings.

About Audrey:

Audrey Robinson is a team leader and a content expert, currently supporting Learn to Trade, experts in the field of finance and money management. Having worked in numerous industries and with a variety of teams, Audrey often shares her tips about team building and management online. Feel free to reach out to her on @AudreyyRobinson.

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