War of the Words: Can you be friends with your boss?

Why can’t we be friends?

By Elliot Chan, Contributor

Your boss, your teacher, and your local policeman—they all have two things in common: they can all cause trouble for you, and they are all human beings. We are often so concerned about the former that we forget about the latter. No matter how stressful our lives become, we must remember that despite it all, our superiors are people too, and they deserve the same respect and kindness that we reserve for friends and family. After all, so much of our lives are dictated by these individuals. Shouldn’t we at least get on their good sides?

I am not saying that you should take your boss out to dinner or buy your teacher an apple, but do take the time and develop a relationship with them. Start a conversation with your employer or teacher during coffee breaks; inquire about their interests, hobbies, and aspirations. The more you know about your superiors and the more they know about you, the more relaxing the working/learning environment will be. And whenever there’s the opportunity for perks, a friendship will only help your chances. Of course, don’t force it if a common rapport cannot be developed. But allow the chance for a relationship to evolve organically.

Any job with an authoritative status is stressful. Though it might not look that way from below, the view from above can be just as intimidating. Coercive or positional, the power is only an illusion. Your boss, your teacher, and the bouncer at the nightclub are governed by higher powers and are simply doing their job. Although their role in your life might be unpleasant, there is no reason you should detest them.

Many people see being friends with an authority figure as taboo, but that is only because those people are overwhelmed by their own hierarchical prejudice. Since the boss and the teacher are above them financially and in expertise, then surely they must also be above them socially. But that isn’t true. Social class is a fabricated idea and not a boundary. Others might see those people with friends of higher status as someone shamelessly attempting to climb some corporate or academic ladder. They might be—so what? Like everyone else, bosses and teachers can usually tell those sucking up from those who are genuinely friendly and approachable. Being able to present yourself in a well to do manner is an important skill and something to be proud of.

Imagine yourself as your superiors. Sure, you want to remain professional, and you want to remain authoritative, but you still want to be appreciated. You don’t just want to be the person handing out the pay cheque, or the one marking the homework. You want to influence and inspire, and the only way to do that is through clear interpersonal communication. Friendship is merely something that grows from the relationships we sow.


Teacher’s pet

By Anne Marie Abraham, Contributor

There is a fine line between teacher and student, between boss and employee. The line is one that should never be crossed, because once someone steps over the boundary to start a friendship, many problems can arise. Friends are equals, and there can be no equality when there are authority figures.

People in authority must make unbiased decisions as to who will get a raise, or who deserves an award for excellent achievement. The teacher or boss might feel obligated to give the benefit to the employee or student of their preference and not to who rightly deserves the acknowledgement. If the employee closest to the boss is given a raise, then the other workers will naturally be suspicious of whether or not the employee actually merited the raise. Accusations will fly. The term “teacher’s pet” will likely be tossed at the student in good graces with the teacher, especially if that student wins awards.

There is also the chance that the student or employee will become bold and take advantage of their connection. They might begin to ask for small things they normally wouldn’t ask of someone they are not good friends with, such as an extra day to complete an assignment, or an extra week of vacation time. The friend in the position of power will likely have difficulty saying the simple two-letter word, “no,” for fear of losing their friend.

When it comes to punishment, how can an authority figure avoid damaging the friendship that was built with the employee or student? In a way, a boss and teacher are like parents. They are leaders. They are responsible for treating everyone fairly and refraining from bias. If a student hands in an assignment late, then that student should lose marks for failing to meet the deadline. If an employee consistently shows up late for work, then that employee should not be given a raise. The authority figure must make a decision, but faces the danger of breaking off a friendship or losing face with the other employees or students.

Another uncomfortable situation will occur if there is a falling out between the friends. The friendship could end in the middle of the semester or a contract, which means that they must continue to face one another. There will surely be tension whenever the two former friends face one another at work or at school; a tension that will no doubt be vibrating in the air and reaching out to the other students or employees. This tension will pollute the workplace or classroom with a negative atmosphere.

It is a simple fact that students should not be friends with their teachers and employees should not be friends with their bosses.