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What’s the best way to manage a colleague who is also a friend, now I have been promoted?

  • Publish Date: Posted almost 7 years ago
  • Author:by Michelle Murphy

Question: I have moved into a senior position in the medtech company where I have worked for seven years. My new role sees me managing people I have worked alongside for many years.

I am confident there should be no issues with the majority. However, I have already identified that I will have an issue with one person. While I have a good personal relationship with them, their work practices need a lot of improvement. I feel I need to confront them on a number of performance issues – such as their timekeeping and productivity. How do I do this without losing the personal relationship we have?

Answer: A workplace promotion is to be commended, so you should feel empowered and confident about your capabilities to lead, and direct a team. As a manager you are expected to know and administer company policies and procedures in order to build your credibility with your team and other members of the management team.

The rules cannot be bent for certain co-workers, so this must be made clear from the outset. You need to become an authentic role model to gain loyalty and respect from your new team. Set the parameters immediately through individual conversations in order to acknowledge the recent change. The relationship has changed on both sides, so it is just as awkward for them.

If you have an emotional connection you will have a hard time setting those feelings aside when needed. Friendship shouldn’t influence decisions on performance, pay or dealing out assignments.

Nip the situation in the bud. You might be tempted to put off the awkward chat but everyone benefits from a timely and honest approach. Even if your co-worker is annoyed about the conversation, they will eventually respect your situation. Your position isn’t about trying to be popular; it’s about leading others to achieve results.

Gather all facts. The best way to make sure that this conversation goes smoothly is to prepare. Review all of the details – then have examples ready to discuss so you have backup ready.

Know your HR policies. Review all policies on the problem. If you wish to have a HR representative present then do so but that might be overkill for an initial chat. You need to know the next steps in procedures, so take charge of the situation.

Measure your empathy. You have an existing friendship so you can gauge how the conversation will go and how they will react. As they are receiving negative feedback or a disciplinary action and may feel you are disappointed in them, be ready for the chat taking a more emotional turn. Don’t let empathy keep you from staying professional. Be sympathetic but remember the end goal.

Agree the objectives Know what you want to accomplish from this chat – will it lead to a performance plan now or is it an initial discussion? Be ready to set clear expectations and agree the next meeting. Don’t drag the meeting on too long. Resist the urge to apologise – they are in charge of their own destiny. Let them make suggestions on how to improve their performance.

Build up the Trust If your friendship is valid then a difficult conversation can be overcome and may even create a stronger working relationship. They need to feel that you trust them to make the necessary changes and that you will support them.

Confidentiality rules as a manager, this is a golden rule – no matter how tempted, the discussion stays between you and the individual. If they want to discuss it with others, that is their prerogative.

A difficult conversation can only make you stronger as a manager; they put you out of your comfort zone and can improve your communication, negotiation and overall people skills. For any difficult conversation, it is important to remain professional at all times and treat each and every employee fairly and with respect so your credibility as a manager can never be questioned.

This article was originally published in the Business section of the Sunday Independent, June 25th 2017. The original article can be found here. Send your career questions to

Michelle Murphy - Director
Michelle Murphy