It’s great to have a friend on your team at work—unless your friend isn’t pulling his weight.
It may not feel like your place to tell a friend to work harder, but ratting him out to the boss isn’t very appealing, either. Walking the line between being a good friend and a good employee requires figuring out whether your friend is likely to listen to any critique you give, and if so, delivering the message in a kind but firm way.
Tattling on a teammate can backfire.
once complained to his boss that his friend, a fellow assistant coach on an elite college swim team, was running disorganized practices. “Something has to be done about this. He’s just not getting the job done,” Mr. Malloy says he told the head coach.
Word leaked out that he’d gone behind his co-worker’s back, hurting the team, says Mr. Malloy, president of the Santee, S.C., office of Sanford Rose Associates, an executive-search company. “I deeply regretted saying anything.”
Many bosses don’t want to hear such complaints. “I ask them, ‘Why are you telling me? Why aren’t you telling the person who’s causing the issue?’ ” says
founder of Fingerpaint Marketing, a Saratoga Springs, N.Y., marketing agency.
But few employees feel safe giving or receiving criticism from teammates, says
Robert S. Rubin,
a management professor at DePaul University. Employers encourage teams to collaborate but expect employees to compete for raises and promotions, fostering mixed motives that undermine co-workers’ willingness to help each other.
hated seeing colleagues on a previous job hurt by teammates’ harsh critiques. The climate was so competitive that a friend who was actually performing well quit the company, says Mr. Valory, chief executive officer of Plex, a Los Gatos, Calif., maker of a streaming media app. He tries to create a kinder culture at Plex by having employees do anonymous peer reviews semiannually that are edited and delivered by managers. More than 95% of Plex employees give the process high ratings, he says.
Friends may be more able than others to deliver criticism kindly.
took aside a friend on a team he led at a previous employer to tell him he wasn’t pulling his weight. “It was difficult, because we had a good time going to each other’s barbecues” outside work, says Mr. Bryant, principal at Empire Studios, a New York video production company. Facing the performance problems early, before their boss got wind of them, motivated his friend to move to a job that was a better fit before he damaged his track record.
Workplace friendships are linked to improved job performance, but coping with role conflicts, misunderstandings and disagreements with friends on the job can be emotionally draining, says a 2016 study in the journal Personnel Psychology. If conflicts over serious ethical or legal issues arise and can’t be resolved by talking it over, it’s best to end the friendship, says
managing partner of Learning-Link, a Cambridge, Mass., corporate-training firm.
Bosses should get involved if an employee’s behavior crosses legal or ethical boundaries, or if a friend’s performance continues to cause problems after repeated attempts by teammates to help.
It’s wise to figure out before raising performance problems whether your friend is likely to listen, says
a Denver organizational psychologist and author of “Insight,” a book on self-awareness. If your friend thinks she’s already nearly perfect and belittles others who give her feedback, she’s not likely to pay much attention, Dr. Eurich says. If she knows she’s performing poorly but doesn’t care, you’ll have to persuade her that she’s actually causing problems for herself or others.
A Delicate Conflict
What to do when a poor performer on your team is also your friend:
- Assess whether your friend will be open to helpful criticism.
- Wait for an opening, such as a comment from your friend expressing worries about work.
- Open with a question about how your friend sees his own performance.
- Describe specific behaviors that need to change, rather than assigning labels like ‘slacker.’
- Mention your friend’s personal goals as a reason to change, such as her desire to be seen as a team player.
- Affirm your support for your friend and ask how you can help.
It’s more likely that your friend is open to change but doesn’t realize it’s needed, Dr. Eurich says. One way to start the conversation is to wait for an opening. If your friend expresses disappointment about a performance review, ask if it would be OK to share your thoughts, then describe problem behaviors you’ve seen.
Another option is to open with a question, Dr. Rubin says, such as, “I noticed that you missed a major deadline, which isn’t like you. Is everything OK?”
Avoid throwing around labels. Declaring that your friend has a poor work ethic or is too aggressive will only put him on the defensive, says
an Atlanta corporate trainer. Cite specific behaviors, such as leaving early during rush periods or raising his voice repeatedly.
Tap your understanding of your friend’s goals and values to lend context. Say, “I know you want to be seen as a team player, and I’ve noticed you’ve stopped helping out less-experienced colleagues.”
Finally, affirm your support for your friend and ask how you can help.
Human-resources executive Eileen Timmins of Chicago was in a bind when a teammate years ago procrastinated on his part of a deadline project. To avoid complaining to their boss, she researched his role and completed part of his work herself, so she could meet her deadline. Her friend was grateful, she says, and they later agreed on some tactics to help him finish tasks on time, such as having her set deadline reminders on his calendar. Her friend’s performance soon improved.
Work & Family Mailbox
Q: I enjoyed your profile of the master networker. He mentioned starting conversations by asking a friendly question. Could you give some examples?—N.B.
A: Try to approach new people with a smile, enthusiasm and warmth, and draw ideas from the context. Ask, “What did you think of the point made by that last speaker?” Show curiosity about the person by asking, “What other kinds of events do you go to?” or, “What brings you here tonight?” If the person wants to meet another attendee you know, offer to introduce them.
Some people offer cues to their interests via fashion items, or hats or bags with sports or organizational logos. Take note, compliment them if you can do so honestly and ask them about it. Comments about the food can be engaging too.
Openers to avoid: Predictable observations about the weather, and, “So, do you come here often?” or, “What do you do?” If all else fails, a friendly “Hi, nice to meet you,” can work just fine.
More From Work & Family
From Wallflower to Expert Networker
July 11, 2017
The Family Memory You Think You Have
June 27, 2017
Rise Above Your Awful Commute
June 20, 2017
Should You Still Get the Parents’ Blessing Before Your Proposal?
June 13, 2017
The Curse of the Endlessly Rescheduled Meeting
June 6, 2017
Write to Sue Shellenbarger at firstname.lastname@example.org