Dear New Shrink,
I have had a very close friend for many years now and this special friend is very successful in business. I am soon to graduate with my master’s degree and I have been offered a position with the business, but I would be my friend’s employee, at least for a few years. We are both concerned about how this might affect our friendship. Do you have any special questions or advice that I should consider?
Excited but concerned
You ask an excellent question. There are many different cases of friends and families working together and from an emotional or psychological perspective the results have been varied. Some situations go extremely well and others go south faster than you might want to think.
In most cases, it depends on the family dynamics to begin with and how well prepared a family is for working together. There are specialists that work with families in business together. I know a few excellent ones; call me if you want some referrals.
Now, you ask about a good friend you’ve known for a long time. Working with them can either be great or really bad. It is rarely anything in between. There are many things to consider, questions to ask and expectations to explore.
In a sense, it is much like a marriage where the ideal images of the family, or in this case the business, needs to be explored in advance.
Role expectations need to be spelled out as much as possible and explored with each other. They are not likely to match 100 percent, but if you have worked them out in advance your chances of doing well are far better.
Also, it is really important that you discuss the inequality of your being an employee and your friend being your “boss.” There may be enough in your education and experience to offset this inequality and if so you can be more like colleagues and that would be great. It is your friend’s business that years of experience have gone into and as you mention, with much success. You wouldn’t expect to come in at an equal level just coming out of school, but if you have enough to offer it may balance out nicely.
Try to think of all the possible situations that could arise and discuss them now. You can work out a way of handling them in the future should they come up.
Then you need to know your relationship. Is it just social? Or do you have a long-standing friendship where you honestly feel that you really know each other?
Some questions to ask are what will happen when one of you disappoints the other? Will you be able to talk it out? Have you ever had a fight or disagreement before? How did you work that out? Will you continue to want to spend social time together or will seeing each other at work mean spending less and less time together as friends?
It can go either way but typically when we get along we tend to spend more time with work friends. That is where many, if not most people, make their friendships.
It all depends on the two of you and your personalities and, most importantly, talking it out thoroughly first.
Then I think both of you might want to ask one or two other people that know you well if they can see or think of anything that might hinder your friendship or the working relationship. It’s difficult to be more specific because it really depends on the personality of each of you. Hopefully you are close enough to know the sensitivities of the each other and whether or not your egos will clash down the road and over what types of things.
Finally, there is the issue of compensation and it is very important that neither one of you give in to the other, but instead you both are comfortable with the proposal. Be sure to consider long-term results. Down the road is there room to grow or will you always be at the same status. If you leave, what effects will that have on your relationship? How long are you expected to stay in the business before moving up?
A special friend is hard to lose but a good friendship can grow even better under the right circumstances. Just make sure you vet it first.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. You can visit her at www.drbarge.com or e-mail your anonymous questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.