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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2003

Buddy's promotion changes friendship but doesn't have to end it

By Dawn Sagario
The Des Moines Register

Felipe Gallardo's best friend is also his boss.

Reporting to a higher-up who also happens to be your buddy hasn't fazed Gallardo, who learned to respect rank during his eight-year stint in the Army. There, friends were promoted often.

So it was familiar territory when Gallardo's friend, Warren Morrow, became his boss nearly a year ago.

"From a very young age, I learned how to draw a line between business and friendship," said Gallardo, 29, of Des Moines, Iowa. "We've kind of built this business, brotherlike relationship over the past three years."

Gallardo and Morrow are fortunate.

Sustaining a friendship after your buddy suddenly becomes your boss can sound the death knell for those who can't find the balance between their professional and personal roles.

How do friends retain their professionalism without sacrificing their relationship? How does a friend-turned-manager discipline a subordinate-sidekick with no hard feelings involved?

Morrow, 25, said he and Gallardo talked about their expectations and roles at Partners in Economic Progress in Des Moines. Morrow is the director of community development, and Gallardo is an academic adviser.

Another co-worker, ChaNell Marshall, is Gallardo's direct supervisor, to help avoid conflict and ensure that his performance is judged as objectively as possible.

There's no preferential treatment, Morrow said, and no shows of favoritism. "I told him, 'I may be a little harder on you than on others.' "

One workplace consultant said friends have to accept that promotion changes friendships.

Sit down and talk, and set parameters for this new relationship, said Joni Johnston, president and chief executive officer of WorkRelationships Inc., based in Del Mar, Calif. Doing so helps avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings if conflicts arise down the road. Acknowledge and respect your new roles, and the fact that the power shift may be awkward for a while.

"Without being too dramatic, it's kind of a minor grieving process," Johnston said. "You are losing something. Your equal status is gone."

As the boss, clearly state expectations and goals for all of your employees, including your friend, she said. Follow up with consistent discipline. Adhere to company policy when dealing with all employees.

When Gallardo first started working there, he'd call his friend to say he was running late. He would be redirected to Marshall.

He did it out of a sense of loyalty, Gallardo said. Then he understood that while they had the same goals in the organization, they both had specific roles in accomplishing them.

"After a while, I caught on," he said. "Warren has to do his thing, and I have to do mine."

Gallardo understood that any discipline from his friend wouldn't be a personal attack.

"If he would need to discipline me, it would be for the good of the organization," he said. "And I would have to understand that."

Morrow said his friend has always been supportive of him, and this job hasn't changed that. The two had also worked together at the Latino Leadership Project — Morrow as the head of the project, and Gallardo as a volunteer.

While their friendship remains close, Morrow said the differences in job responsibilities have affected them. He tries to limit socializing with his friend to avoid perceptions of favoritism.

Co-workers Marshall, Jay Hall and Kim Hamby said while the entire staff of seven is like a family, they're all there to get a job done. Fulfilling the organization's goals and maintaining its reputation are paramount.

Johnston, the consultant, said friends in the employee role have to understand that the person once privy to every little detail of your life may no longer be the best person to unload on, especially if the tidbits are work-related.

Her scenario: If you're looking for a new job, it's probably best not to tell your boss-friend what you're up to.

Social and work communication are fundamentally different, a University of Northern Iowa professor said.

The purpose of social communication is to build and maintain relationships, said Dale Cyphert, associate professor in the department of management at the university. The more you talk about, the better. The purpose is just to communicate.

"That's when people say, 'We can talk about anything,' " Cyphert said. And sometimes anything means nothing.

Communication in work situations is very focused.

"The purpose there is information exchange," she said. Work communication is about clarity, conciseness and accuracy.

Human beings switch between the two all the time, using different sets of rules and roles appropriate to the situation.

Cyphert's example: Three generations of a family own a business. Day in and day out everyone puts up with all the crazy things family members do. But when the company has to meet a deadline, everybody snaps into business mode to get the job done.

When one friend becomes the boss of the other, some choose to sever their friendship as a way to avoid conflict, she said.

Others who remain friends may try to keep their new roles straight by physically putting space between themselves, Cyphert said. If you were pod-mates before, one of you should move.

Co-workers will be watching how this new dynamic plays out, she said. Openly explain to others that you're both working hard to keep the business and personal relationships separate.