Productivity//

From Friends to Colleagues: Treading the Fine Line between Professional and Personal Relationships

Some pointers from an experienced hand might help maintain the balance.

In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals. Nobody walks into an operating room straight out of a surgical rotation and does world-class neurosurgery.

Malcolm Gladwell

My father began his now internationally recognised brand of products, that has become an industry giant, in a garage with his best friend. While they parted ways as business partners, they remain friends.

I went through college building many associations I thought would last a lifetime. However, rarely did I believe relationships would change in a working environment. The natural assumption was that they would be enhanced considerably by working with friends simply because I would understand and could expect to be understood. The lines of communication being streamlined and deeply embedded in shared personal experiences.

A job soon after completing my postgraduate diploma was made somewhat exciting when I found out that two of my batch mates were fellow assistants. What I didn’t realise was that the three of us would be treated very differently despite our equal footing in terms of qualifications.

While I became the favourite, one became a pushover and the other a punching bag. It was only thanks to my previous relations with the two girls, I was privy to their true feelings around the job, the working environment and maintaining relations with management. I had to be extremely modest about my position and lend them a sympathetic ear which I was happy to do.

They were after all friends with whom I had just been through an intense nine month professional course with 40 other students all of whom were now our common friends. I’m happy to report that 10 years hence, we remain friends. But, career graphs are drastically different, personal lives have taken over and we have no need to talk. It is more likely than not that if we did meet, conversation would revolve around our days struggling as assistants rather than planning a collaboration given our common history and taking it forward.

I have had lovely personal relationships blossom into wonderful and meaningful collaborations and vice-versa. But, experience has shown that there has to be a conscious effort made by all parties in the very early stages to really outline roles, expectations, projections and monitoring of output. All this under the umbrella of open and honest communication expected with friends after a couple of drinks.

Healthy, with a sense of humour. Of course, the strains began to show and patience was tested. The timing is really key. It does matter at what point in your professional development you choose to engage or indulge in transitioning from friends to co-workers.

Money is a big factor; a risky investment is braced with loyalty, trust and a common attitude towards the unpredictability of fate or as the fine print informs us. ‘Subject to market risk. Please read the offer document carefully before investing.’

Is there a document? Do you sign a contract? You must. It is definitely more reasonable than a prenuptial agreement. It’s not asking too much. It brings together external factors that often evaporate while the dreams are still making their way out of the pipeline. Get a lawyer involved. He or she is bound professionally to maintain objectivity and advice in the clients’ best interest.

Most of all, put your friendship before your position-based-inflated-workplace ego. Personal relationships become more and more difficult to maintain as you grow professionally. Friends become few and new ones come far in between. Clearly, you have found somebody you are bound to intellectually, morally and financially when you decide to employ in business.

Remember what brought you together and recognise when it is time to part ways amicably. It may even be that an existing toxic relationship dissipates due to the difference of opinions that reveal themselves in the workplace.

Friendships are not always forged under conditions of good judgment in our youthful years. The future remains a mystery even as millennials find their calling over Instagram.  

There is no reason to lose faith in the human condition over industry changes, banking systems getting more and more taxing and governments changing. As a young professional, it’s best to learn the ropes first. If you do have a clique of potential partners, spread yourselves out wide across the industry of your choice. Penetrate your tentacles in different areas of specialisations.

Work your way up the ladder as competitors with the help of ethics and emotional maturity. Look out for each other as occupational hazards expose themselves and try and bail each other out without violating any non-disclosure agreements you may be liable to. You will make powerful allies and lifelong chums.

Want to share your story of how you thrive? Write to us at editorial.india@thriveglobal.com

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