4 Pitfalls of Supervising Friends and Family and How to Overcome Them

Supervising friends and family has the potential to be one of the most productive work relationships that exists in the workplace. Sadly, this is not always the case. Whether supervising a long time friend, managing a family member, or being promoted to supervising your peers, it is critical that all new managers learn to overcome these four pitfalls.

Poor Performance.

One of the most amazing dynamics when supervising friends is that they often will take you for granted, assuming that you will accept their poor performance because of your relationship. In fact, it often occurs that when the new manager is a friend, the employee begins to lessen their own standards of performance. Whether this is done intentionally or not, you must address it.. The greater problem is in the response you receive when poor performance is addressed. Often, new managers feel that their requests are ignored by friends they supervise. If this is a new supervisory relationship it is absolutely critical that you have a meeting in which you clearly lay out the expectations in this relationship. They need to know that for their sake (so other’s won’t gossip about them) and for your sake (so your team will not lose respect for you and your authority) that you must treat them the same as every other member of your team, and that the performance standards as well as the disciplinary standards will remain consistent. If you’ve already begun to experience this, you must confront the problem directly. You can have an informal discussion about it at first, but if that does not change the situation, then you must address this in a serious manner. Follow your company’s procedure for handling performance issues. Make sure that you clearly communicate that these are not just requests, they are directions given by their supervisor. Remember, everyone else is watching you.

Voicing Your Own Negative Feelings About the Organization or Your Supervisor.

Whether you are at work, a company function or hanging out at friend’s house, when you become a supervisor, there is a part of you that is always ‘on’. This means that there are now subjects you don’t get into, and boundaries you don’t cross. Even though you may have a legitimate issue with the organization, or your supervisor, never express them to the people you manage. First, it can negatively affect them as employees, especially if they have similar concerns, and cause severe future consequences. Second, it puts them in a very uncomfortable position, if they don’t agree with all of your concerns. Third, it creates an environment that causes employees to vent and voice negative feelings even when you’re not around, and sometimes about you. Fourth, it could very easily get to the wrong person and now affect your reputation. The key to this is you must find a new sounding board, someone who is at arms distance away from your job. Ideally this is someone who doesn’t work with you and doesn’t have any type of relationship with any one from your job, like a neighbor or a relative. In some instances it can be a co-worker in another department or a mentor, but use caution when that’s the case. The two of you need to agree that he or she should function as a “dead end” (some you can tell delicate information to and it ends with them). Thus when you voice your feelings, there is no chance of it getting to the wrong person or negatively affecting someone involved in the organization.

Manipulation.

Of all the pitfalls that must be overcome, manipulation is often the most challenging. Manipulation occurs when the other person leverages their friendship against you to get what they want. First, do not let this affect you emotionally. Do not be fooled. This is rarely just a normal conversation that leaves you feeling guilty. This is almost always being done to you intentionally. More importantly, it is also a sign of disrespect. This person believes that you are weak and will succumb to emotional terrorism. Second, address this as early as possible. The more it occurs, the more it becomes a pattern. This also keeps you from building resentment. Third, don’t beat around the bush. Subtlety is not effective in this situation. If you feel someone is leveraging your friendship against you, address it head on. One of the most common phrases new managers hear as they are being manipulated is, “I thought we were friends!” a great response to this is, “In reality, if we were the friends I thought we were, you wouldn’t put me in this situation in the first place.” This helps to express that true friendship is not one sided and should not be used for the purpose of manipulation.

Favoritism or Perceptions of Favoritism.

You should expect to be accused of favoritism when you manage a friend. Avoiding the previous four pitfalls, will help to minimize any legitimate complaints a worker could have regarding favoritism. But in reality, even when you do your absolute best to make certain that all associates are treated based on their work, you must realize that not every accusation of favoritism is accurate. Many people don’t take responsibility for their own performance. When was the last time you heard someone say, “I didn’t get that promotion because I wasn’t qualified?” Most would rather find someone else to blame or misapply a statement like “It’s not what you know but who you know.” Don’t let it get to you. This is just a combination of blame shifting and manipulation. Address the issue by letting the other members of the team know that there is no favoritism here and that every one is being held to the same standard.

Although these techniques may seem simple it doesn’t mean they are easy, but when you overcome the emotional challenge of the friend-supervisor dynamic, success is assured.

Summary:

Supervising friends and family has the potential to be one of the most productive work relationships that exists in the workplace. Sadly, this is not always the case. Whether supervising a long time friend, managing a family member, or being promoted to supervising your peers, it is critical that all new managers learn to overcome these four pitfalls.