Situation 35: Friends on Facebook:

Femsy friends Betsy on Facebook, however, Betsy does not feel comfortable melding personal and professional lives.

(Click on the pictures to see them in full size)

A great leader:

  • Is able to set boundaries around her working life and professional relationships;
  • She demonstrates empathy and builds relationships with her colleagues based on what feels natural to both parties and fosters great collaboration;
  • Is assertive and respectful towards others whilst making clear her expectations.

How to best handle the situation:

Given the increasing demands of work, it is likely that you are working long hours on projects with your colleagues. The intensity of the work can result in camaraderie and the formation of strong bonds – a feeling of ‘we are all in this together’. Therefore, it is not surprising that some work colleagues may consider you to be more than just a coworker and try to extend the relationship to your personal life.

If you feel uncomfortable with any invitation to socialize either physically or virtually it is best to have a face-to-face conversation with the person concerned. Do not respond to a friend request on Facebook directly on the app/platform. Ask the individual why they sent you the invitation  Remember to use a tone that is conversational rather than judgmental. ‘I saw that you sent me a friend request on Facebook, I’m curious as to why’ or ‘By the way, I saw your friend request on Facebook, that was a surprise’ are better than ‘Why did you send me a friend request on Facebook?’ Actively listen to what he/she is saying to you; your aim is to get the other person to open up to you so you understand his/her motives, then you can decide how you want to respond.

If you still feel awkward with having a personal relationship say that politely; thank him/her for the invitation and say that you normally prefer not to mix business and pleasure. However, it may be that once you have heard the reasons, for example, the person does not know many people in the area and would like to meet up occasionally or feel that you have mutual interests that you can share via social media, you will feel able to give this a try.   It is fine to tell him/her that you feel a bit awkward since this is not something that you normally do, but will give it a try to see how it goes. This signals to the other person that there is a chance that you will ‘unfriend’ him/her at some point if you continue to feel awkward.

Learning suggestions:

  • It is hard to be strict about never mixing work and personal life since you may find that there are a few people at work whom you both respect as colleagues and gel with on a personal level. Therefore, it would be a shame to cut yourself off from the possibility of cultivating them as friends because you feel that would be unprofessional and/or you like to keep your work and personal life separate.   If you have adopted this philosophy ask yourself these questions:
    • Why do you feel this way?
    • Why is this important to you?
    • What do you gain from this approach?
    • What do you lose out on?
  • Reflect on your answers and determine whether you want to set rigid boundaries around work and personal activities. If yes, consider:
    • How will you come across to your colleagues?
    • What impact will this have on your reputation?
    • How can you convey that you enjoy working with them so that you still have a positive work environment?


Consider whether you can be truly successful without making some friends at work.

 Femcommunity tips:

We welcome your thoughts, experiences and comments on how you would deal with such a situation.

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