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Work with family and friends? It's not the time to talk turkey

Working with people you have personal relationships with can be a wonderful thing. And it often doesn't turn out that way. It can easily get 'complicated' when you're trying to juggle two kinds of relationships with the same person. And while it's easy enough to say 'just be yourself', we all know that when it comes to relationships, and how easy it is to burn bridges, it's better to think it through first. Here are some ideas to try out as you head into the holidays.

Instead of thinking about different kinds of people, let's look at two different kinds of scenarios. The first is for how you relate with friends (and family) when you're at work. The second is for how you relate with them when you're not. Each scenario has a different set of challenges, but they both come down to setting healthy boundaries.

At The Office...

You have to hold family and friends to a higher standard - at least, it will feel that way. When you hire someone from your personal life, it changes the nature of your relationship in ways that are hugely risky to ignore. Whether you like it or not, from that day forward you are never not their boss. It doesn't mean you can't be friends, but it means you have to accept that your friendship changes - even if it's in no other way than accepting that when you're at work, any 'friend' vibe you put out there with this person is an obvious recipe for disaster with their peers and subordinates.

And while you have to watch for it in specific situations, you have to watch for it even more over time. Every quarter (or more frequently) you should be asking yourself : "Knowing what I know today, and based on their 'pure' performance, are they still the best person for the job?" Related to this is the question: "Is there someone in the organization that is being unfairly held back - even if it's only their perception - because this other person knows me?" If this sounds harsh, just remember that it's far easier to relax your approach over time than it is to recover from one that was too soft out of the gate.

...it's far easier to relax your approach over time than it is to recover from one that was too soft out of the gate.

After Hours...

Think twice before sharing personal struggles with colleagues outside of work. It's risky for two reasons. While compassion is fine, they might start feeling 'extra' bad for you, and take on some of your responsibilities without you noticing. They'll resent you for it later. On the flip side, the truly ugly but real side, some people will find a way to use your personal struggles against you in the office. It doesn't mean you should shut down, it just means keeping an eye on the tricky line between authentic and open book.

Along those lines, while it might feel okay for you to 'switch gears' into friends mode after hours, it's not that easy for them when you're still the boss come Monday morning. They can very quickly 'know too much' about you, and it can undermine their performance whether that's conscious to them or not. For the sake of the business, and this is the tough medicine, it's better to err on the side of less personal time with someone who works for you than more.

If you do find yourself in a personal setting with someone from the office, just be conscious of the risks. Opening up or engaging in conversation about the business walks a fine line. Without intending or maybe even wanting them to, you're putting your friend in a position where they have to shift into work mode, to consider their words more carefully than they would if you were 'just anyone'.

Working with family and friends can be a gift - we have many examples here at EMyth. It just carries extra risk, and an extra responsibility to make sure you don't lose sight of what's best for the business over the long term.

The business has to come first, if you want it to last.

Jonathan Raymond

Written by Jonathan Raymond

Jonathan was a frequent contributor to the EMyth blog from 2011-2015. His articles focus on marketing, branding, and organizational culture.

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