Managing Your Friends

Managing your Friends

Relationships in hospitality are unique and can be complex. In other businesses people tend to keep work and personal lives separate. In bars and restaurants people tend to see an overlap between their work and personal life. They believe that good relationships are vital to meeting business objectives, and that their relationships with others will be the same, whether they are at work or meeting socially. People spend time outside work hours with colleagues and clients. As a consequence, many of us are in a situation where we are managing not only our friends but our siblings, our parents, our children, our housemates, our partners, and this one’s particularly tricky, our ex-partners.

Managing our friends isn’t just about technique. Rather, it’s about the endlessly changing dynamic of oneself with other people in a set of circumstances. Doing this with skill and confidence is about who you are as well as how you do it.

Our research here at Watershed points clearly to the idea that our greatest single reference as managers is how we were parented. What they valued, what they considered fair, considered a risk, a challenge, a good relationship. Not just birth parents but adopted parent, church leader, that special teacher – any significant adult who helped us interpret the world.

So, it’s no wonder that asking anyone that we care about to raise their performance can be a challenge.  Especially with Mum or Dad sitting there on our shoulder playing ‘tape recordings’ of the past into our subconscious and feeding us subliminal scripts.

The trick is to turn this internal child state into a genuine adult state. In this mode we are interested, practical, rational, and creatively resourceful. Say to yourself: What is actually happening? Cut out any emotional triggers that you may be encountering. What are the facts?

With this in mind we are better able to coach, to offer feedback, to consult, to train, to give instruction, to ask for help. We assume resourcefulness in both ourselves, and others. To quote the great Thomas Harris: I’m OK, You’re OK

A good way to test this new you is to say no. Especially if, like most of us in a business which likes saying yes, you find it hard to say no. Having to say no gets to the heart of why some people find it difficult to be assertive.

Typical ‘no’ situations might be

  • Refusing a colleague’s request to go on holiday at a particular date.
  • Saying no to a request for an increase in salary.
  • Telling a boss that you cannot take on an extra piece of work.
  • Even telling a partner that you’d rather stay in and watch TV than go out for dinner.

Do any of these thoughts occur to you when you have to say ‘no’?

  • It may undermine our friendship
  • The other person may dislike me for it
  • It may look selfish or rude

If you can’t say ‘no’ when it is perfectly legitimate to do so, you run the risk of being exploited by others.  Ultimately, you may become so fed up with being considered a doormat that you have occasional outbursts where you resort to aggressiveness – all the pent up anger suddenly breaks out.

A protocol for saying No

  1. Acknowledge the person’s right to make the request.

I can understand why you want to go out tonight because you’ve been working so hard.  You need a bit of light relief.

  1. Say ‘no’ straightforwardly.

I don’t want to go out tonight, I’d rather stay here.

  1. Explain your feelings, then give your reasons.

I feel really tired, and I’ve had a really difficult day and I just haven’t got the energy to get changed, get the bus to the restaurant etc.  The idea of staying in front of the TV appeals much more.

  1. Suggest an alternative. This is an important step because it shows that you are trying to meet the other person’s needs as well as your own.

I wonder if we could go out tomorrow instead, or maybe x or y would like to go with you if you’re really keen to go tonight?

This formula works even when you have to use it with someone who is more senior than you.  Suppose your boss has asked you to take on an extra project.  You are already very busy.  Here’s how it would work:

I can see it’s very important to get this project done, but I can’t take it on now. (You acknowledge the validity of the request)

 I’m already over-stretched on my existing work – I’m having to stay late every night just to get that done.  I feel I’m slicing myself so thin I know I’ll start making mistakes if I take on any more.  (You explain why you can’t say yes).

My suggestion would be postpone the start of the work.  If it could wait for three weeks I could take it on with pleasure.  (You show willingness to solve the problem by suggesting an alternative)

How does that seem?  (You ask for their feedback)


  • You have the right to say no
  • You have the responsibility to listen to the other person’s request
  • The relationship is unlikely to end in disaster if you do say no
  • The other person may not always be happy with the outcome, but that is their choice, not yours
  • A compromise solution is usually possible
  • It is your choice what you say.

So, if the hardest part of managing your friends is saying no to them – then give no a go.  We continue to be friendly but not to need their friendship: Management and leadership a being as well as a doing activity.