2016 Update: We still stand by the advice in this post, but you may also want to check out our latest discussion of whether you can be friends with your secretary.
Can you be friends with your secretary? We got this e-mail from Reader A and it raises a lot of interesting questions, such as how to treat your assistants, how to behave in a male-dominated field where you’re one of the only women who isn’t a secretary, and so forth….
I’m wondering how one is friendly with colleagues at work without becoming friends with colleagues at work. I’m an attorney and have recently moved to a firm where I’m the only female attorney, and the staff is comprised almost entirely of women. I was warned in a joking manner by one of the partners when taking the job to beware – previous female attorneys at the firm have fallen victim to being ‘friends’ with staff (regular lunches, after-work drinks, etc) and then later suffer the wrath should someone need to be called on the carpet for job performance or with claims of favoritism.
So far, I’ve gone to lunch with only a couple of people who have initiated the invitation, and I avoid discussing others in the office and steer conversation away from that topic. However, I plan on being here a long time, and I wonder if you or your readers have insight that might help me or have found themselves in similar situations.
Right? Great e-mail. So far, what reader A is doing sounds great to us. Here are some further tips:
- There’s nothing wrong with finding a friend who happens to be a staffer. Like our advice for dating at the office a few weeks ago, though, we would not recommend looking for a best friend at the office (really, among the staffers or elsewhere). Aim for collegiality. You’re all in this together, and you all have your own jobs to do, and it’s often best if emotions are kept out of it. Friendship can be harder with people you supervise directly — it’s important to see both their skills and weaknesses as clearly as possible, so you can compensate and better manage, either by delegating things in certain respects, or knowing to phrase your requests in a certain way.