When Best Friends Become Worst Colleagues

Worldly friendship becomes true friendship
when it transforms to be spiritual friendship

– Stonepeace

A colleague (who is a friend) lamented to me of how difficult it is for her to work with another colleague, who is also a friend. Knowing that I experienced similar difficulties in the past, she asked for some advice. My advice was simple. She should keep work matters professional, while keeping friendship matters… well… friendly. Sounds easy, but how do you clearly separate the duo? And how do you tell the other party that the duo should not mix? A friend might expect some special treatment during work, while you might have no intention to offer any at all. And sometimes, a friend turns out to be a poor co-worker, while unable to receive constructive criticism – especially from a friend, who is the last person some expect ‘unforgiving’ criticism from. As expectations differ, unhappiness results. ‘After all I have done for her as a friend, how could she do this to me?’ This could well be uttered by both sides!

Friends do not always make better colleagues. The way one is as a friend usually differs from the way one is as a colleague. In fact, some friendships work precisely because both parties are not colleagues, which thus eliminates chances of work friction that could jeopardise friendship. What is the professional way of handling conflict at work with a friend, who might think it is you who are not only being a lousy friend, but are being unprofessional too? Ask a third party for a fair opinion – who can be a team member, or in the worst case, a superior. This seeking of a fresh outlook should be done without animosity though, and there should be no gloating if the result favours one. Otherwise, it would be a case of a sour work relationship which sours friendship. Do the proposed solutions sound idealistic?

What if the other party bears a grudge despite fair resolution of a work conflict? Well, you should simply continue being professional best you can, while being a good friend too – but prioritising work matters when working to avoid favourtism. But you should invite your friend to chat about any unhappiness later too, in a more casual manner – after work. Why after work, you might ask. This is in case your friend has yet to be able to differentiate your working relationship from friendship. But once there is maturity, a working relationship and friendship can mix well – and there can be positive results better than working with a ’stranger’. The truth is, for many colleagues who were once strangers, we do eventually befriend one another over time. You can literally ‘work’ towards greater friendship!

Our real work is to befriend ourselves and others
with the Dharma till we become Buddhas. – Stonepeace

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