When the boss gets too close for comfort

WORKING WOMAN

August 15, 1993|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

A reader in Brooklyn, N.Y., wrote recently about a situation with which more and more women are dealing: the chance for an intimate friendship with a female boss.

"My boss is an energetic, dynamic, interesting woman; I both respect and like her. But lately she's made it clear that she wants more than just a working relationship with me.

"This week alone she's invited me out to dinner twice, to the movies once, and to her summer place on Long Island for the weekend. I'm flattered, of course, but I sense a 'velvet trap' that could jeopardize my working relationship with her.

"Already she's told me more secrets about herself than I want to know . . . how many lovers she's had, that her ex-boyfriend was bisexual and that she's had two abortions, to name a few," wrote this reader who, like her boss, is in her 40s and divorced.

"I'm afraid she'll eventually regret sharing this sort of highly personal information with someone who works for her, and that this could lead to real problems in our working relationship.

"Plus, the more she confides in me, the more she encourages me to confide in her, and I don't want her to know my innermost thoughts and feelings (not to mention my sexual history!) because she is, after all, still my boss," her letter continued.

"Neither of us is gay, but if we became any closer as friends, I have a feeling I'd be risking the same sort of complications I would if I had an affair with a male boss. Could this be possible, or am I losing my mind? Please advise."

My advice always is to listen to one's own good intuition when it comes to matters like these, and it sounds as if this woman's is working triple-overtime to steer her away from a potentially complicated and hazardous situation. Emotional intimacy, the prime ingredient in most friendships between women, can be every bit as dangerous as sexual intimacy.

This might be hard for many men to understand because they define the word "friendship" differently than most women. In general, conversations between males who are "friends" center on work, sports, current events and the weather. This sort of impersonal chatter is not fraught with peril.

The sharing of secrets, on the other hand, is fraught with peril, especially if we work with the person in whom we're confiding.

This reader might be wise, therefore, to ask herself some of the same questions she would if she were considering a romantic relationship with a male boss or co-worker. For example:

Will an after-hours friendship with this person affect my job performance in any way? Are she and I the kind of people who can strictly segregate our personal feelings when it's time to be professional? Could we also maintain a mature professional relationship if we had a falling out?

Is this person basically honest, forthright, trustworthy, fair and discreet? Does she seem happy and secure (most of the time) in her career and, more important, happy and secure (most of the time) with herself? Unhappy, needy people don't make good lovers or friends.

She would be wise, as well, to be clear in her own mind about what kind of off-work relationship she wants with this boss, and how exactly she will firmly but politely defend her own boundaries if the need arises, because in the final analysis, no one -- male or female, boss or co-worker -- has the right to invade

our privacy.

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