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Friendship is a tricky thing.  To me, being someone’s friend requires that I am there to support them in good times and in bad.  It also means that brutal honesty should be supplied when necessary.  If you come to me with your head placed firmly up your rear, you bet I’m gonna tell you to pull your head out.  I would expect no less from people who care about me.

I’ve learned a lot about friendship throughout my professional life.  I have learned to differentiate between “Work friends” and real friends.

Work friends are the people who you see every day in the trenches.  You talk to them about all of the little things…television shows, what you had for dinner the night before.  You eat lunch together and trade horror stories about the boss.  You share your plans for the grand exit when you win the lottery.  You celebrate birthdays, new babies, deaths, marriages and divorces.  You go to happy hours and occasionally let your hair down with these people. 

Then, you leave that job.  Suddenly, the people who you thought that you knew so well are afraid to call you, for fear of losing their job or that they’d be considered to be fraternizing with the enemy.

Real friends are the people who you might not talk to every day, or even every year.  They are the people who get you.  They are the ones that, when you finally get together for lunch or a cocktail after months or years apart, are genuinely glad to see you and take the time to ask you how you are.

Have you ever had a work friend that thinks nothing of coming into your office, settling down and downloading the latest episode of their personal soap opera?  I’ve had many of those over the years.  These people are the victims of the world.  They are constantly surprised by the fall-out from their own bad decisions or strange choices in life.  Nothing is ever their fault and someone is always out to get them.  they will spend tremendous amounts of energy telling anyone within earshot that they work so hard and do so much for the company…they just can’t understand why their work ethic should ever be questioned.  This, despite the fact that they rarely put in a full, Honest to Pete, forty hour work week.

I’ve learned that the harder and louder someone insists that they are overachieving, it’s usually a signal that significant levels of time are being wasted.  “The lady doth protest too much!”

I spend ten years listening to every variation of this theme in my prior work life.  Babysitting a department of twenty-plus adults as a manager, and as human resources manager for the office of over one hundred employees, I could just about predict when a “friend” would be knocking on my door, looking for validation.

I left, in part, to get away from that.  Today, it found me again.  In our small office, drama has bubbled up.  A work friend has been under some scrutiny of late.  It’s  a small business, and productivity counts for everything.

My friend has been going on for months about the state of her job.  as far as I’m concerned, if she spent half as much time actually doing her job as she did over-analyzing every perceived sideways glance, tone of voice or closed office door, she could be a rich woman.

She started in this morning, completely misinterpreting the intentions of our owners behind some changes being made to structure and salary.  When I presented my point of view, she got angry and accused me of being brainwashed.

That set me off.  To say that she was startled by my reaction doesn’t begin to describe the look on her face.  Ticking off point after point, I reminded her of my history with the company, some points about basic business etiquette and salary support, as well as some impressions she’s made on me and on others in the office.  When she started to bluster back at me and pulled the “I came to you as a friend” card, I was ready.  We have worked together for a year and a half.  On a regular basis, she comes in and unloads, with no regard for my work or my personal feelings.  She rarely asks about the things going on in my world…and we all know that there have been a few.

As her friend, I told her to stop, take a good look at why no one else in the office seems to suffer the same drama that follows her like a cloud.  I also said that she had to think about what she wanted out of life.  If she really has such issues with the workings of our office, she needs to make decisions and do what is best for her and for her family.

And then, the boss walked in.

My friend put some files together, forwarded her phone and left the office.  I didn’t see her or hear from her for the rest of the day.

I don’t feel especially proud of our conversation today; but, I’m not sorry it happened.  I’ve gotten to a point in my life that I know that I’m not doing anyone any good if I just jolly them along, encouraging destructive behavior.  Some people will live in a constant state of turmoil…they thrive on it.  I would go nuts if that was my life every day.

Maybe you shouldn’t ask me for my opinion unless you are prepared to hear it and really want to know what I think.

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