Does the idea of having friends in the workplace excite you? The truth is, everyone wants a team environment where they feel supported and valued, and building friendships at work can be one technique to craft the ideal team. Becoming friends with your coworkers seems like a natural solution; the deeper the bond, the stronger your productivity and overall performance will be.

However, where do you draw the line between a personal and professional relationship? For instance, you are so accustomed to sharing how your weekend went that your meetings don’t actually start until 15 minutes later. You and your work best friend enjoy going out for lunch, but these lunch dates are beginning to extend beyond the allotted 30-minute break and into the actual workday. While you’re happy with your new friendship, it is now negatively impacting your work habits.    

Don’t get me wrong – I think that being friends with your team members can be an excellent addition to your workday. However, communicating boundaries is critical to managing the personal and professional sides of your relationship. A foolproof way to navigate through your work relationships is to tune into your emotional intelligence. 

Manage Your Relationships with Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to manage emotions in an effective way to improve performance in a variety of critical areas, including decision making, stress management, and communication. Relationships can be highly emotional, so listening to your emotions and learning how to manage them will teach you how to use your emotions as insightful data to learn more about you and your interpersonal relationships.

Once you’re able to identify your emotions, you will be able to manage and control them. The only way to genuinely understand your feelings so that you can manage them effectively is to spend enough time thinking through them to figure out where they come from and why they are there.  For example, if you are feeling frustrated, tapping into your EI will allow you to clearly identify your triggers – the situation, person, or event that caused the emotional reaction, and will enable you to constructively  express your frustration instead of acting impulsively. The challenge is when we don’t share how we really feel, people are left guessing how we feel by our actions.  And some people may feel frustrated, but it comes across as anger in their actions. Therefore, there is a disconnect between their actual feelings and their demonstrated behaviours. 

Accurately labelling your emotions, will enable you to make better decisions. For instance, the more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you feel, what caused it, and what you should do about it. Your feelings can dictate what you might do. Deciphering between feeling “bad” versus “irritable” or “anxious” can help you make a more informed decision on what you should do about it.   

Let’s put your emotional intelligence into action in the following two situations!

Situation A: Managing a Personal Relationship At Work

Picture this – you’re a Human Resources (HR) Manager, and you have recently hired a new Coordinator, referred by a team member within your department. You are aware that both team members share a close relationship, so you are excited to see them in action. However, you soon notice that the two are often in the break room for prolonged periods, chit-chatting away. An assigned project involving both of them is becoming delayed as deadlines are missed. You are beginning to think that their friendship is impeding their productivity.  

Working alongside a close friend can be tricky. Let’s focus on the positives first – the two likely share a close bond and are comfortable with each other. However, if you, as a leader, can see that their friendship is poorly affecting their working relationship, it’s time to intervene. 

Set up separate meetings with each team member to express your concerns, and redefine what success looks like. Have a raw and honest conversation, and name potential resolutions if the problem persists. For example, a possible solution could be to shift project partners around. This is where your emotional intelligence competency, Social Responsibility kicks in. Being socially responsible means caring about others, acting responsibly and with concern for the greater community.  Understand that while your possible resolutions may not be in their favour, it is in the overall team’s best interest. 

During this conversation, it is also crucial to listen to what the team members say; they may not have even noticed their drop in productivity. It is critical to establish expectations to resolve this, whether it be in terms of engagement or a team charter. Set up parameters on what success looks like and what happens once the expectations are not met. Expectations will aid in keeping the team members accountable and hold them to a standard for work. 

Situation B: Addressing Conflict From Personal Life

Now, let’s imagine that your meetings with the two team members went well, especially after you reminded them of their expectations. Currently, they are working productively and cohesively on the project together, meeting their deadlines. Score! 

The following week, it appears that the duo is in troubled waters again. The two are seen arguing about a situation that occurred on the weekend, resulting in one team member storming out of the room. Later in the day, the other team member comes knocking on your door, stating that the other team member has been blocking out all communication from them. What do you do now? 

It’s crucial to explain to both team members that they need to park their personal issues at the door, as the two of them have a professional working relationship while on the job. What occurs outside the workplace is a part of their personal relationship. When they come into the workplace, they need to set aside their issues instead of bringing them into the workplace, affecting their professional relationship. 

As the leader, know that your team members confide in you. Therefore, you need to listen to their responses with empathy, the emotional intelligence competency that recognizes and understands how others feel. Listen to what your team members have to say to make a decision best fit for the collective team. 

Another emotional intelligence competency, Reality Testing, will come in handy as you remain objective and challenge your assumptions. Reality Testing is the ability to see things as they genuinely are versus creating stories in our head about what is going on. While you, as the manager, may be an expert in navigating through personal and professional relationships, your team members may be on a different page. They may not see their friendship impeding their work. They may have never worked with a friend before, so they need more coaching on managing their personal and professional relationships. 

The Moral of the Story

Distinguishing between personal and professional relationships at work can be a delicate matter. As a leader, you need to tune into your emotional intelligence competencies to build your team into masters of relationship management.   

Learning how to manage personal and professional relationships is crucial in creating a supportive and healthy team culture. Want to learn more about how to build stronger interpersonal relationships? 

Check out our Online Mastery class, where you will learn about all 15 emotional intelligence competencies. Additionally, you can also check out our blog, The Dark Side of Interpersonal, to learn about how to avoid overplaying your interpersonal EQ competencies.

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