Sunday, August 7, 2011

Work Friends Are Risky Rungs on the Career Ladder

"There are no such things as friends at work," my friend Barry declared to me one day a number of years ago, coaching me on a (now) minor work dilemma.  A mutual colleague at work, who I assumed was a friend of several years based on our warm sharings together about our child-rearing experiences, had just pulled a maneuver on me worthy of a cannibal cousin of the Borgia clan.  Frankly, and annoyingly, my feelings were hurt.

I uncharacteristically did not respond immediately, processing the paradox of his statement and a bit taken aback.  As we were both Logistics professionals, I responded logically.  "So we're not friends," I replied, a bit puzzled.   "No,"  Barry reiterated.

I started chuckling:  it worked, I snapped out of my moping.  "We eat lunch together at least twice a week; we travel together at least twice a month, and we hang out together voluntarily on non-work-related time.  So we're not friends?"  Barry shook his head, grinning.  "It's business, not personal," he said.

I rolled my eyes.  Here we go, about to take another trip to the Gender Gap.  Barry, however, would not let me off the hook.  "Here's the deal," he continued. "The bottom line is that results count.  We're here to produce, not to play.  You know that as well,  if not better, than I do."  I nodded, and Barry continued.  "That guy's always been an asshole when it comes to getting his work done.  He just needed to get work done, and it happened to be in your area, so it was your turn.  Plain and simple."

I thought for another minute about Barry's assessment.  "But you and I get our work done:  we knock heads occasionally, but the net is that we pull our results, have fun and we're not assholes to each other," I asserted.

"True," Barry agreed.  "It makes our work together more productive and pleasant.  But when the opposite happens, I accept it and move on.  I get the majority of support from my family and friends outside of work.  Now, I may have met some of my great friends at work:  however, it always better when I don't work with them."  Seeing me uncharacteristically quiet and pensive, Barry drove his point home. "As another example, I accept the fact that, while you and I are friends at work, I also know that you, as the HR Director, may someday be in a position to lay me off if our business starts tanking."  He grinned at me again.  "It's part of your job:  it's business, not personal.  The work comes first."

"So you do understand that, especially in my line of work, friendships are always a risk," I responded.  "I appreciate your feedback."  I grinned back at him.  "I'm still willing to take the risk."

Barry rose from his desk chair and put on his coat.  "Great, I'm done.  All this talking has made me hungry.  Let's go grab some lunch."

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