Chances are, you already know that workplace friendships make us happier, healthier, and more engaged when we’re on the job—which counts for a lot since we spend so many of our waking hours at the office.
What you may not know is that more and more employees are forming these close personal connections with their managers: One survey of 3,000 employees found that a third have asked their boss for personal advice, around a quarter have hung out together socially, and the majority have met their boss’ significant other and kids (and vice versa).
Building a great relationship with your boss can enrich your professional experience and success, says career coach Kathy Caprino. However, blurring the boundaries between a personal and professional relationship can be tricky, especially with the person who controls your salary and career trajectory.
The key, says Caprino, is to manage the relationship with maturity and self-awareness. “A close relationship with your supervisor involves building strong boundaries,” she explains, “so that the friendship doesn’t impact how you perform your work together and how you relate as professionals in a situation where the power between you isn’t equal.”
These four guidelines will help you to do just that:
1. Connect Without Crossing the Line
Connecting on a personal level can help you build a more resilient relationship with your manager. You may not see eye to eye all the time, for example, but sharing common interests makes it easier to stay empathetic when you’re in the midst of a disagreement.
However, spilling your deepest secrets or too many details about your personal life to your boss isn’t in your best interest. That’s why it’s crucial to stay professional: You don’t want to reveal anything that could come back to haunt you or cause your manager to question your capabilities, professionalism, or judgment. Try these conversation starters to find common ground without getting too personal:
- Where’s your favorite place in the world?
- What is your ideal pet?
- Who is your dream dinner guest?
2. Avoid the Rumor Mill
Don’t share coworkers’ personal information (or your thoughts about them) with your boss. Not only is it unfair to influence your boss’ relationship with the rest of the team, you’ll also lose the trust of your colleagues—and possibly damage your professional reputation—if you’re perceived to be management’s “eyes and ears” around the office or the source of office gossip.
3. Don’t Expect Special Treatment
Prepare to be held to the same standards as every other employee, whether that’s meeting deadlines, producing deliverables, or getting to work on time. Don’t expect a promotion if your work doesn’t merit it, and don’t look for your manager to cover for you if your work isn’t up to par. Think of it this way: You don’t want to be seen as someone who receives perks or favors because of your friendship with your supervisor.
4. Remember Who’s Boss
At the end of the day, your manager’s job is to be your boss first and your friend second. If there’s an issue you need to discuss, like your salary or performance review, be sure to do it professionally during office hours, not over drinks.
The bottom line: As with any friendship in a work environment, it’s important to tread carefully (and thoughtfully) when it comes to your relationship with your boss—but when these connections are nurtured in the right way, everyone stands to benefit.