It is often said that we spend more time at work than we do anywhere else. And while that may not be 100% true, we do spend a good deal of our lives at work and with the people that we work with. So unless you are one of the estimated 4% of sociopaths in the world, and thus emotionally detached, you are likely going to find yourself developing personal relationships with your coworkers. And while we may not want to openly admit it, unless we are in that aforementioned exclusive club of sociopaths, this is important to us, which makes it challenging as well, especially if you are in any kind of leadership role. This is because sometimes you are going to have to have tough conversations, or even fire people that you like on a personal level. I have found myself countless times telling myself “this is a shame,” once I have concluded that the best or only course of action to take for the good of the organization is to part company with someone. I have coached a lot of HR folks over the years, and one line I persistently tell them is that if you are going to make it in this business you have to be able to split off that emotional attachment. I tell myself “I am not firing this person, they are,” or “I am not putting this person on a final warning, their behavior is what put them on the final warning.” But that doesn’t make it any easier.
The same goes for decisions in general. Managers tell me all the time “I’m not here to make friends,” and I usually believe them, but often times their actions simply don’t align. They write schedules that have no rhyme or reason other than to benefit the individuals of their team. They refrain from having tough conversations or making tough decisions, and cite a fear of turnover or a disgruntled team as their reason for not doing what needs to be done. “Oh, I can’t have that conversation, they will quit.” Or, “if I address that, I’ll have a mutiny on my hands.” Of course this is usually bologna, but being the caring HR guy that I am, I do not state the obvious. Instead I ask what the alternative is. Let the behavior continue until someone else has to step in and deal with it? Do they think the mutiny will be any less then?
So if you do find yourself in these situations, I find that the best thing to do is cut straight to the chase. Lay out what the issue is and why it is unacceptable and needs to change. Explain your position, hear their side, but stand firm. If they begin to appeal to your friendship, or anything else, stop it cold. Be sure they understand this isn’t personal. They may not like you after the conversation, but if done right, they will at least be more likely to respect you.