If you have friends at work you most likely enjoy your job more. But did you know that you make better decisions, are more engaged in your work, more committed, and productive?
Making friends at work is more important than we give credit. Workplace friendships are one of the strongest predictors of productivity, according to research. Psychologist Ron Friedman points out in his book The Best Place To Work, managers don’t often recognize the importance of workplace friendships.
“It’s because it’s easy to confuse the concept of friends at the office with the notion of fooling around,” Friedman explains. “Close friendships are perceived as a source of gossip, favoritism, and distraction. But that’s exactly the wrong way to think about what happens when we’re working with friends.”
It turns out that meaningful connections are vital to our psychological and physical well-being. In fact, it’s impossible to perform at our best unless we feel connected to others.
But making friends at work isn’t always easy. Work relationships can be complicated by notions of hierarchy and perceived utilitarian motives. Efforts to befriend someone can feel forced.
When we meet another person for the first time, it’s a defining moment in how that relationship will develop. On a neurological basis, the human brain instantly picks up clues to whether a person is friend or foe.
We select which coworker relationships to cultivate. Friendships at work are different than those in other contexts. The culture of the organization most likely has unspoken rules about appropriate social contacts.
Three Types of Friendships
Aristotle described three kinds of friends that meet different purposes.
- Friendships based on utility: people connect and maintain their relationship based on mutual benefits.
- Friendships based on pleasure: The relationship is based on mutual enjoyment and emotional rapport.
- Friendships based on good: People connect and support one another based on shared goals and values. Elements of both utility and pleasure are combined in this third type of friendship.
The Golden Rule of Friendship
According to author Jack Schafer, Ph.D., in his book The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over, many of us make friends by using this unspoken rule:
The Golden Rule of Friendship – if you want people to like you, make them feel good about themselves.
The Golden Rule of Friendship serves as the key to all successful relationships, whether they are of short, medium or long duration. This vital skill sounds easy, but may require practice.
People gravitate toward individuals who make them happy and tend to avoid people who bring them discomfort. This seems so obvious that we assume we always act accordingly, but we don’t. What gets in the way is our own ego.
At our core, we see ourselves as important and worthy of attention. We like to impress others. But if we want to appear friendly and attractive to others, we must forgo our ego and pay attention to the other person and their needs and circumstances.
Other people will like you when you make them the focus of attention. In our busy work days, we tend to focus on what we want and need, so we aren’t paying enough attention to what others want.
Ironically, other people will be eager to fulfill your wants and needs if they like you.
Friends and Self-Disclosure
For two people to deeply connect, it’s not enough to just talk shop—both people need to share personal details about themselves. And as the relationship grows, the level of self-disclosure needs to grow.
When researchers from Washington State University interviewed coworkers about how they became friends, they discovered a pattern of self-disclosure that included sharing problems from one’s personal, home, and work life.
In a competitive work environment, sharing emotionally sensitive information can lead to awkward situations. Author Rachel Gillett suggests an eight-step process for self-disclosure in an article in Business Insider, How to Make Friends at Work (January 2016).
Here’s how to open up the right way in the workplace:
- Start on a positive note: While sharing personal stories helps strengthen a relationship, it’s best to start with a foundation of positive experiences before divulging more sensitive information. Your first few conversations with a colleague are crucial. Everyone pays attention to first impressions, and so your early interactions should aim to show warmth and skill—not divulge personal sensitivities.
- Don’t rush the process: Self-disclosure is not something you want to rush into. By starting small, sharing incrementally, and slowly moving towards divulging more emotionally sensitive information, you become more confident that your sharing is mutual.
- Keep interactions positive: As a general rule of thumb, for every negative discussion you have, there should be five positive discussions. This offsets whining, and prevents conversations from becoming gripe sessions.
- Look for similarities: Similarity is a basic building block of friendship. Find subjects of interests you have in common with your colleagues, whether they be sports, Netflix series, children, or hobbies.
- Find areas of common struggles: Conversations can also center on collaborative assignments where you and your colleague need one another to succeed.
- Open up to non-work topics: The more people talk about non-work topics, the more likely they are to be friends. Rather than always talking about your boss or impossible deadlines, consider talking about your plans this weekend, family activities, or your newest hobby.
- Share outside of work: Focus the more private aspects of your friendship to off-work hours. While at work, be inclusively friendly with everyone in the office.
- Evaluate the friendship together: Discuss your friendship with one another, especially concerning any boundaries that might be important to either of you at work.
Do you have friends at work? If you’d like to deepen friendships, try these suggestions.