Conflict with an ex-friend who is now the boss

I’ve been working as a supervisor for a medium-sized corporation for the past 10 years. My co-worker and friend Chris (not his real name) was promoted to manager and became my boss. Since then, our easygoing relationship has changed. He has rejected much of my work, even those submissions whose issues are only superficial. I also heard from other workers that Chris is badmouthing me. Why can’t Chris tell me what he wants?  — Lonely Boy.

When a smooth work relationship becomes difficult, you need to understand many things. Generally, Chris may want to establish boundaries in your relationship in order not to compromise his position with top management. But why can’t Chris explain the situation?

Maybe he has known you for some time and he expects you to fully understand where he’s coming from. It could be that he has high expectations of you. The trouble is that we’re all guessing here. The only thing I can tell you is to find out and understand his job expectations.

You need to sit down one afternoon to discuss with Chris what has changed and what his work standards, methods, and targets are. There’s nothing wrong with initiating a serious talk with Chris.

Tell him about your confusion and ask to reset the relationship. But first, take a close look in the mirror. Find out what’s wrong with you and your work performance. Do this objectively.

POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPWhen the balance of power shifts to the side of Chris by virtue of his promotion, you must fully understand his new mandate. Of course, it’s not right for him to talk negatively about you in front of other people. That’s unprofessional. But what if you’re being accused of something by other people out to destroy your relationship?

Again, we don’t know the answer to that. What we know is that both you and Chris had a positive work relationship before he got promoted. All you need to do is to relive fond memories to soften your new image of Chris. Approach the situation with renewed hope.

You don’t have to stop being friends, but both of you must understand that times have changed and that it’s imperative for both of you to draw a line between your friendship and your professional relationship.

You must understand that Chris doesn’t want to be seen as playing favorites with you, or even suggest that favoritism is affecting his judgment, even if untrue. You should be aware of this possibility.

NEW RULESUnderstand that you no longer enjoy the luxury of an excellent work relationship with Chris, who may not have the appetite to initiate a conversation with you. Or maybe he’s so busy managing various operational issues that he can’t find the time to talk to you. Whatever the case, you need to initiate the discussion with the following in mind:

One, understand the change as a work-in-progress. No matter how life has changed, treat it as temporary. Hope for the best. Be realistic of what you’ve invested in that company for the past 10 years. Think twice before handing in a resignation or request a transfer to another department, if that’s what you’re thinking. This could reflect negatively on Chris.

Two, reset the relationship by exceeding expectations. That means completing your work on time. Likewise, you must ensure the highest possible quality in your routine work and special projects. This is the best way to support Chris in his new job.

Three, pay specific attention to instructions issued by Chris. If they are verbal, confirm them by sending an e-mail detailing how you understood them. Use that same opportunity to raise objections or concerns that may have escaped his attention. Whatever you do, you must protect yourself to minimize the risk of being blamed later on.

Last, perform damage control by ignoring the grapevine. It’s difficult to accept bad news from other people who may have agendas. While you can’t fully control what others may have told you, avoid responding emotionally. Whatever happens, don’t speak negatively about Chris.

Chat your workplace questions with Rey Elbo on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or e-mail them to or via