It’s probably not news that positive relationships with your teammates can make work better. When we’re around supportive people, we’re empowered to do our best work. It’s been shown that working with friends actually boosts employee satisfaction by 50%, and people that share a job with a best friend are seven times more likely to engage fully. Friends at work make work better.
But how do we actually form friendships—or develop deeper relationships—in the workplace?
It isn’t completely straightforward. You want to be professional and respect boundaries, but it’s equally important to be yourself. You need to be yourself. Here are some ways to think about it.
Stretch the circle wider
We all know how it feels to be overlooked or left out. So make a point to reach out and include someone you might not have before.
A simple gesture makes a difference. I took a new coworker to one of my favorite lunch spots during his first week. He had also just moved to the area, so I invited him to hang out outside of work.
You want to be professional and respect boundaries, but it’s equally important to be yourself.
We hit it off. And as we bonded, we came up with a bunch of great ideas for work. Not only had I made a friend, but our company benefited from it as well.
When working on teams, don’t forget that there may be someone on the periphery (literally or figuratively) who’d like to join, but is too shy to speak up. Be aware of others around you and consider how they might feel; you’ll notice opportunities to be inclusive. Try to look outside of yourself once in a while. Believe me, people appreciate it.
A teammate in need is a friend indeed
At work we can fall into a pattern of doing what just needs to be done and not going out of our way to help others. After all, why do something that we won’t get credit for, when there is plenty of stuff that we need to be doing already? But there is one very good reason: to be a good human.
A developer at our firm was developing an Android app by himself. I was running customer support and helped him gather beta testers. As we talked, I realized how overwhelmed he was. He was a brilliant guy, but had never built an Android app before and was becoming demoralized.
I started to help him. I borrowed an Android and started doing quality assurance—in addition to managing the beta testers—and met with him to help consolidate feedback. I read up on the differences between Android and iOS and helped him adapt the app for a different ecosystem. It made his life a bit easier.
He did all of the hard work, but I know he appreciated having someone along for the ride. And in the meantime, we developed a great camaraderie. Long after the app was finished, we worked well together whenever we were on the same project.
Let yourself be vulnerable
Being vulnerable is necessary for true friendship, even at work. But since we’re expected to have a professional demeanor, where are we supposed to draw the line?
All I can say is, you have to feel it out. Like developing friendships in your personal life—you can’t open up too much, too fast. There’s a pace, and it depends on the person and situation.
What I do is open up little by little. I volunteer a bit of information and see how the other person reacts. You know you’ve opened up the right amount when the person reacts positively, but don’t overdo it if they are not receptive.
It’s not easy to reveal to another human that I, in fact, am not perfect. But that’s the point. No one is perfect and pretending to be will rub people the wrong way. Our flaws and insecurities are what make us human, and when we open up, two things happen:
- People appreciate that you trust them. It makes them feel good about themselves. (“I’m a person whom others trust!”)
- They relate to you. C.S. Lewis once said “Friendship… is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too?’”
The best working relationship I’ve ever had with a manager was with someone who really knew me. He knew my insecurities, he knew how I thought, and most importantly, he knew what I could bring to the table. And I knew him too. I knew what he wanted to accomplish in his new role, what he valued, and how to reach him. We were working on a redesign, but we ended up rebranding and repositioning the entire product—taking on an extremely ambitious mission because of our mutual understanding.
Whether you’re a manager or intern, having friends at work can make a tremendous impact on your happiness at work. They make the good times better, and the bad times bearable. I can’t imagine getting through some of the stuff I’ve been through without my work friends. And I can’t imagine my life without the friends I’ve made at work.
Take a minute to open up to a coworker, and you’ll be glad you did.