Early in my career, one of my bosses said, “Remember Catherine, the people you work with are not your friends.” The irony of that is that she and I have been close friends for almost 20 years now! And, although you can and will make great friendships at work, I have come to better understand the wisdom of her words over the years.
As we all know, much of our life is spent at work. So, if we can’t be friendly with our coworkers, life could get pretty dull. Not only that, but getting things done at work often requires teamwork. So, how to relate with coworkers on a personal basis takes some thought. After all, at work, others judge your performance. You are paid to support the organization and its success, not to build a network of friends. Luckily, one often can do both. From your employer’s perspective, you are being assessed on your ability to improve results and get along with others. So how can you enjoy friendships and still maintain a professional demeanor?
Remember, at work, its business first. While you want to enjoy your coworkers, each of you has a work agenda and you may not always agree. Often, it’s not a problem when you and your coworker’s agendas match up, but inevitably, your agenda will be at cross-purposes with someone else’s at the workplace. It may not always be fair or fun, but in life, that’s how it goes.
So, here are some tips for navigating the world of workplace friendships. (I’ve included some ideas from a blog post by career expert Heather R. Huhman on Glassdoor.com since her article inspired me to write on this topic. Check it out!)
Strive to work well with others: Treat people with respect, negotiate in good faith, deliver on your promises and avoid surprises. In short, act with integrity. It engenders trust. Feel free to share some laughs, but don’t forget why you are at work. This is business and today’s ally may be tomorrow’s competitor.
Remain appropriate and professional. Be mindful of what you share about your personal life with your co-workers. There is a reason that the expression “TMI”, (aka “too much information”) was invented. Are you sharing something about yourself that a coworker really needs to know? Will it make their day or their workweek better and/or improve your working relationship? If not, you may want to keep it to yourself.
Get your work done and do it well. Remember why you were hired. You have deadlines for a reason, so don’t get distracted and spend all your productive hours socializing.
Watch your language. Don’t gossip and speak badly about other workers. Keep conversations positive to help boost workplace morale. This guideline may also limit your downside when and if your coworker is not as resistant to spreading gossip as you are.
Set boundaries in direct reporting relationships. A friendship with your boss or your subordinate can be warm and fun, as long as it is respectful and appropriate. Remember, at some point, you will have either to receive or give a performance evaluation. Don’t set yourself up for an uncomfortable situation.
Be a good communicator. Many conflicts arise because of poor communication. We all want to believe we will never be involved in a workplace conflict, but that’s not realistic. When conflicts arise, handle them maturely. Focus on issues and behaviors and don’t get personal. Use effective communication tools and do your best to work things out. Consider the long-term results of any disagreement. You probably don’t want to ruin a friendship, a good working relationship or get yourself fired.
Have lunch together. Having lunch with coworkers allows you time to be more personal without compromising productivity. From time to time, dinner may also be appropriate; however, I believe that any after hour meeting are optional. Use your best judgment as to how much time you want to spend with coworkers outside of the office - that time is yours.
To read the Heather R. Huhman’s blogpost that inspired and contributed to this discussion, check it out on Glassdoor.com at http://www.glassdoor.com/blog/guide-workplace-friendships/#disqus_thread
Good luck and may you enjoy a hassle free and friendly work environment.