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Is This Personal or Professional?

07 Jul 2021 1:30 PM | Anonymous

Dear Sophia,

I want to be supportive of my staff. I care about them as people and I am interested in them, but it seems like we are more friends than professional colleagues. When it's time for performance reviews (now!), I find it so hard to be objective and not let our personal relationships influence how I review them. I justify it to myself by thinking of the wonderful things they do, and they do many wonderful things, but I know in the back of my mind that they (and I) can always grow and there are things they could do better...but it feels like they will be hurt if I tell them openly and especially during performance review time. Help me separate personal relationships from the professional, and change my relationships with my team so that I can better fulfill my obligations to our organization. 

Help Me Rhonda

Dear Help Me Rhonda,

You’ve touched on a sticky issue that almost all managers will have to face at some point in their career. While giving feedback may never be easy for you, I assure you that taking steps to shift your own mindset and taking steps to shift the mindset of your team to look at feedback as a gift can forever change how you prepare for a performance review with every type of colleague (friend or not). Once you choose to regularly welcome and collect feedback, you model for your team what is often a missed opportunity to gather data from others that is necessary to grow.  Unfortunately, performance reviews tend to be a single annual event where supervisors are expected to evaluate an individual’s performance and goal attainment. The anxiety that comes from this time of year is definitely a reflection of our mindset about giving and receiving feedback. In addition to shifting our mindsets about feedback, there are several ways to preserve friendships with colleagues while not compromising your professional responsibilities.

Let’s start with the most basic rule of any relationship you have with anyone anywhere: effective communication. We all know that resolving any human relationship issue starts and ends with communication. As the manager, it’s your job to communicate in a respectful and clear manner referring to behaviors and actions, not personality. This is  especially necessary with employees you're most worried about. Be honest and be explicit about your responsibilities as a manager at your company. Tell them you recognize giving constructive and positive feedback could make for some awkward space within your relationship when feedback is perceived in a negative way. Be willing to hear their concerns about this and be open with your own. This will help them recognize the tricky spot you’re in as well as allowing you to hear any of their worries about the relationship dynamic.

On the heels of communication comes setting expectations. To remove the personal from the professional as much as possible, be clear about the things you will be assessing in the reviews with all of your employees equally. When giving feedback, consider how you're highlighting the positive and pointing out areas of needed improvement, think about the manner in which you would want a friend to judge your performance. Try couching the comments in ways that are supportive such as, “We are having issues with follow-through in our department. How do you feel you perform in this area? Are there things that we could adjust to make it easier for you to feel successful in this area?” Reviews are a great way to share feedback you’ve noticed, and also ask employees to be self-critical. What areas do they feel they can improve upon? Chances are these will overlap with the things you’ve noticed, and you can then help support them in meeting these new goals.  

And don’t be afraid to add in lightness and humor. If it starts to get sticky because you need to address something they’re not seeing, remember this is a person who trusts you.  Your trusting relationship can help you to say “you and I both know things get tough for the team when everyone isn’t following through on their commitments, and I see you're overloaded at times. What can I or other members of our team do to help?” An advantage of knowing your staff well on a personal level is that you likely have a better idea how to provide feedback in a way that they’ll understand and feel that it comes from a place of care and not criticism. Your friendships will help you customize your approach to management.

There are other things to consider as you move from friend and manager so that you are keeping a balanced approach to your work and not showing favoritism in the office. As a manager, it’s important that all of your employees can trust you to be fair and just. For example, if you socialize with certain colleagues outside of work, keep your social media about those activities to a minimum. When it’s lunchtime and you’re headed out, invite all of your colleagues to go along, not just the ones who are your friends. It may not be as fun, but as a manager you have responsibilities beyond your work friendships and those need to come first. The bright side is that you have friends at work and that should be celebrated. You don’t have to forfeit those relationships at work. In fact, if you’re honest and fair, those relationships will only get stronger.

Confidentially Yours,


P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Lilly? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.


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