Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 15 2013
Can you be friends with your boss?
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.