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Dive 15: A boss fires an employee… his best friend
Hey, it’s Alvin!
Lately, I’ve been keeping up with a couple of best friends.
Well… they used to be best friends.
They also used to work at the same company, but one was the boss (let’s call him Bob), and the other was his subordinate (let’s call him Steve). And in the beginning, it was just the two of them.
Some time later, they hired a third person (let’s call them, Terry). Steve didn’t get along with Terry, though. They had fights that Bob felt Steve instigated, so Bob kicked Steve off the main project onto another project.
After a few months, the company started making lots of money. According to Bob, the company’s accountant suggested Steve was earning too much. And Bob felt Steve wasn’t pulling his weight, so they had to dock Steve’s pay.
Steve had enough.
So, Steve left the company, but it’s not clear how he departed. Steve said he was fired. But Bob said Steve left on his own accord. Regardless, it wasn’t an amicable departure.
Steve resented Bob for taking Terry’s side in their interpersonal conflicts. He hated that after his last fight with Terry, Bob did nothing to clear the air. Bob carried on as if nothing happened. Steve also felt he deserved what he was earning, given his contributions to the company’s success.
Yet, Bob still saw Steve as his friend. He wanted to do what he could to help him. So, after Steve left the company, Bob gave Steve all the tools and equipment he needed to start his own company. They still hung out after work. And when Steve needed to move overseas, Bob funded the move. Steve was grateful for all of that. He said as much.
When Bob sided with Terry and let Steve go, Steve felt his friendship was over. But Bob still did so much for him afterwards, as if they were still friends. All this left Steve confused.
As far as I can tell, Bob’s only confusion was in finding out Steve was upset all this time.
The distinction between Bob’s mentality and Steve’s mentality gives us at least one reason going into business with a friend can ruin friendships: most people have a hard time mentally and emotionally separating a work relationship from a friendship. That affects how people perceive their friendship with others in a specific way within a business context.
In Steve’s mind, it wasn’t just his boss that fired him; his friend fired him.
But that’s not how Bob saw it.
Bob’s the boss. He has a business to run. He has to make executive decisions to do what’s best for the business. After considering interpersonal issues, the company’s financial situation, and other legal issues, Bob, the boss, decided that letting Steve go was the best decision for the business.
But Bob, the friend, still cared very much for Steve. As a friend, Bob didn’t want to see his friend suffer, starting a new company from scratch. So, he reached out to help as best he could.
One mistake Bob made was assuming that Steve could distinguish between his two personas. Surely, Steve understood he was only doing what’s best for the business, right? Maybe he did. But our feelings and emotions don’t respond to logic.
And this isn’t a slight against Steve. When you’re the one being fired, it’s hard not to take that personally, as a friend. It’s hard not to feel betrayed, no matter how logical the decision might seem from the other side of the table. Because, at the end of the day, you’re still supposed to be friends, too.
Having heard both sides of this story, it’s clear Bob and Steve are quite distinct personalities. There were times they talked past each other. And there were times both sides failed to communicate their intentions clearly, leading to misunderstandings. But, maybe it’s for the best. For what it’s worth, they’re both doing well with their own companies.
Over the years, I have often heard the advice of never going into business with friends because it ruins friendships. After hearing both sides of this story, I was so fascinated, I just wanted to share what I learned.
Would I go into business with a friend? I’d have to ask myself: “Is there a way I can still consider my friend as my friend if my friend fired me (especially for outrageous reasons)?” I’m not suggesting it’s foolproof. But, I find it helps to imagine how one might respond in a worst-case scenario. If the answer is a sincere, “yes,” then there’s, at least, a chance I can separate a business relationship from a personal one.
I hope you enjoyed this dive Below the Surface of going into business with friends. Reply to email@example.com if you have questions or comments. Let me know what you think of doing business with friends. Do you think it can work? Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading. Have a wonderful day. And I’ll see you in the next one.