10/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

When Your Friend Becomes Your Boss: How To Preserve Your Job And Friendship

Dear Christine,
My best friend at work got a promotion and is now my boss. Not only am I slightly jealous and upset that I did not get promoted, I also don't know how to act around him. We started at the company around the same time and bonded over cross-cubicle conversations. Now that he is my superior, I already feel things are different between us. Is there a way to maintain our friendship or now that he is my boss does our relationship have to remain strictly professional? And how do I deal with feeling demoted?
- Demoted, 27, Chicago

Dear Demoted,

Feeling jealous and upset is understandable, especially if you wanted the promotion that went to your friend. The best way to deal with feeling demoted is to take supportive outward and inward actions. Outwardly, sincerely congratulate your friend. If you can put aside your ego, you may discover that tapping into genuine enthusiasm for someone else feels a lot better than jealousy. If appropriate, I also encourage you to have a talk with your boss. Share with him or her about your positive regard for your friend and respect of his new position. With the intention of learning, inquire about how you can better support the company and catapult your own professional development.

If you are yourself asking the question, "why him not me?" answer it via self-reflection and investigation. Think about what your friend did to earn the promotion. Did he work overtime to finish a special project? Or maybe he asserted his own ideas to make the workplace more efficient or profitable? Was his attitude consistently reflective of a strong work ethic? If you look to him as a positive example and implement those observations into your day-to-day work life, you too could soon be getting a new title.

Inwardly, move into acceptance as much as possible. Acceptance of the "what is" is the fastest way out of upset. If you continue to entertain thoughts of why this is a bad thing, it will continue to feel this way. Consider that you are on a different path and your friend's position may not have been a fit for you. Instead of obsessing about what you did not get, open your mind to new possibilities. Brainstorm ways to enhance your current position to make it more fulfilling and interesting.

And having a boss who is also your friend could be absolutely ideal! Instead of seeing it as a potential conflict, see it as a gift that will make each work day more enjoyable - you could be stuck with a boss you can't stand. Don't create a problem or issue where there isn't one. Nip any feelings of awkwardness in the bud. Instead of negative future fantasizing, expect that your friend will do a good job and be fair to you and all of his subordinates. You like him and the higher ups like him which is why he got the promotion, right? So, let's expect that he's going to treat you fairly and do a great job.

As far as how to approach your new working relationship, start as you intend to go on. Communicate with your promoted friend sooner rather than later to establish expectations and boundaries. Maybe make a rule that after you leave the office, no work talk is allowed. It's important that you keep in mind he is now your direct superior as well as your friend. Don't begrudge him the respect of his new position while at work. If you do, you will weaken your friendship and possibly make it more difficult for yourself to get promoted in the long run. That said, it takes two to tango in a friendship, so don't put all the responsibility on yourself to make both the personal and professional relationship work.

I encourage you to approach this situation as an opportunity to learn from someone you respect. Keep communicating, have an open mind, and while the faces of your work family will change, know that the camaraderie you feel is an important component of job satisfaction. Focus on your own professional development, and learn from those at all the levels around you, so that someday you can be the type of boss someone would also be proud to call a friend.

- Christine

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