When I started with my current company, I met and bonded with a coworker. We were hired at the same time and shared similar interests. We ate lunch together two to three times a week and went camping together.
Three months ago, I got promoted. I now supervise her and other former coworkers. She and I went out for a celebratory lunch. It was horrible, the conversation stilted. She took potshots at me. I called her on it. She told me I’d misinterpreted what she’d said and had lost my sense of humor.
Since then, things have awkward between us. I’ve asked her if something was wrong. She told me my status has gone to my head. I asked her how and insisted I’m still the same person. She said she didn’t want to talk about it.
I don’t know what to do. Do I push her to talk? I miss my friend.
When you get promoted over a former friend, you risk losing her friendship. Not everyone can handle the feelings that surface when a former peer, especially one hired at the same, moves past her.
If you want to turn this around, examine your own behavior. Although you say you haven’t acted differently, you may have in ways you don’t recognize. For example, because you want to fix this, you’ve asked whether you “push”, rather than “invite,” her to talk. You asked her to a celebratory lunch because you expected her as a supportive friend to celebrate your promotion. Were you a supportive friend to her, one who asked how she felt about the situation?
New supervisors can throw their new status around in accidental ways, for example, by bragging about senior management meeting they’ve attended or new training opportunities they’ve received.
Next, even if you haven’t changed as a person, you’ve changed in your role. What if your friend reveals something she expects you to keep confidential because she told you as a friend, but as a supervisor you realize it’s a problem you need to deal with?
Supervisors that pretend they’re still “one of the gang” delude themselves. Your friend and other former coworkers may treat you differently because you have authority over them. Ultimately, you monitor and appraise their work performance.
Finally, no one individual can keep a friendship alive without the other’s permission. Work friendships, fueled by common daily experiences and similar viewpoints, have a short life span that frequently ends when one friend changes roles – as you have.
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