How (and why) to make friends in the workplace (infographic)

So your teacher told you that chatting with your classmates was bad for productivity. Maybe she had a point. Or maybe she was way off. But you’re an adult now, and it turns out that having friends in the workplace is pretty good news for just about everyone involved. (Even your teacher if he learns to buddy-up in the staffroom).

It’s good news for you, because research has shown that having friends at work can boost job satisfaction by 50%. If your best friend is there with you, you’re also very likely to feel you have a chance to be your best self each day. Working with people you pass the time of day with can also reduce loneliness – yours and theirs – which is good for the heart. May sound like a song lyric, but it’s true.

And it’s good for your employer too, since (despite what teacher said) you’re likely to be far more engaged and productive in the workplace if you have the occasional chat and the company of people you like, and who like you.

Finally, it’s good for your family and community because workplace friendships reduce stress, which will probably make you a nicer, kinder, more collectively-minded person to be around!

So we’ve proved your old school teacher definitively wrong. That was the easy part. The difficult thing is making friends at work. You may have nothing in common except your economic status; you may have everything in common but naturally fall into unhealthy competition. Or perhaps you’re just shy and don’t want to seem needy or to force yourself on someone who’d rather keep themselves to themselves.

Thankfully, there’s a guide to making friends at work that can make it a lot easier to start the process.

The art of asking

A lot of it is to do with onboarding some general principles. You’re not building up to ask someone on a date: you’re changing the way you relate to other people in general to create an ongoing rapport. A simple thing to do is to ensure the questions you ask are meaningful and open (not yes/no questions.)

For example, “did you catch Game of Thrones last night?” can get you a swift “No” and end of conversation if you pick the wrong victim! “What shows are you watching?” can instead open it up, and even if they respond with something you don’t know about, you have a thread and can begin asking more questions and learning about each other.

Similarly, “how are you?” has become a bit of a silence-filler. Normally you’ll get a “good-good” or a “you know…” in reply, because nobody really thinks you mean your question – it’s just something we say! Better to ask a question that requires some meat on the answer: “what did you do at the weekend?” is better than “have a good weekend?”

Outside hours

Now you’re past auto-reply syndrome, it can be nice to acknowledge that you’re human beings who exist beyond your work personae. If you find you’re getting on with somebody, ask what they’re doing for lunch – and ask if they’d like to go to lunch with you (but offer them the chance to choose the spot). It can reduce the risk of this gesture being misunderstood if you invite two people at once.

You can also click outside of work by making a connection on social media. Again, it can be a tricky balance not to overstep the line: some people prefer to keep their work lives separate (especially if they enjoy moaning about work on Facebook!). Don’t take it personally if your request isn’t responded to. Being work friends doesn’t necessarily require you to have a connection outside of work hours, but if the chemistry is right, it can help you learn more about each other so you have a stronger rapport in the office.

The professional approach

A more formal way to get to know people better – and break down the barriers to more friendly chats – is to be enthusiastic about working together. If your team is small or anti-social, put yourself up for inter-departmental projects, field trips, and seminars. Working or travelling with new people can help to establish that bond.

If you’re shy and have trouble striking up non-work conversations, you can make yourself appear more open by engaging more within your team on work matters, such as offering help or advice (only when it’s asked for). And don’t turn your nose up at work social events, formal or otherwise (the Christmas party or Friday beers) since they are a really good chance to speak to different people and get a shared experience you can relate to later.

Sensitive issues

While it is great to have friends at work, not everybody feels the same way or is comfortable sharing and working together in this way. If in doubt, hang back, involve a third person (so that any one individual doesn’t feel your attentions are undue), or stick to the workplace code. Remember that ultimately this is a place of work and the livelihood for the people you work with, and it can be very difficult for them if they don’t feel comfortable there but don’t have the confidence or recourse to address the situation.

Particularly if you don’t see each other outside of work, be very wary about sharing personal details or unfavorable opinions about your employers or clients. This is to protect you, and also your new friend – who can be made uncomfortable with the burden of your personal problems. Keep things light and positive, and try to see the best in people and keep it to yourself if there’s someone you don’t like. It’s easy to form an exclusive clique before you realize what’s happening, and this sort of atmosphere in the workplace undoes all the good work of making friends.

It can make such a positive difference to have people you know, like, and can pass the time of day with at work. A feeling of shared accomplishment and solidarity can strengthen your position in the business and your progress in your career. Why not make that connection today?

5 Research-Backed Reasons Why You Need Work Friends (And How to Go About It) - infographic
5 Research-Backed Reasons Why You Need Work Friends (And How to Go About It) - infographic

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