There are tons of obvious reasons you should make friends at work, and research has shown that having friendships in the workplace benefits us. While you shouldn't be treating your office like your best friend's living room, gossiping and talking about your weekend instead of getting your work done, having friends (and, ultimately, advocates) in the workplace is healthy (even frenemies can be good for you!).
Why Should You Make New Friends at Work?
When we were kids, most of us weren't trying to learn how to make new friends. Back then, relationships were as simple as asking, “Hey, wanna play?”
Unfortunately, forming friendships as adults presents more of a challenge. We have a certain way of understanding the world, not to mention a specific way of interacting. And while we may have friends, it's unlikely that our existing friend group will pursue the same industry as us, much less the same company.
This means that knowing how to make new friends at work is vital. Because let’s face it, our careers are hugely important in our choices. In fact, people cite work as one of their top reasons for moving, according to a United Van Lines study, which means that adults are now finding themselves in new places, wondering how to make new friends.
There Are Health Benefits to Making New Friends at Work.
Since we often jam-pack our days with tasks, errands, and commutes, it can be easy to write off a social life as something luxurious, reserved only for those with ample free time. But the truth is, social interaction promotes a healthy lifestyle, no matter who you are.
In fact, studies show face-to-face interaction can work as a de-stressor, and close relationships later in life can even prevent mental decline. This means friendships are important — not only for your fulfillment but also for your health. So, if your social life is lacking because of your job, it’s time to make friends through your job.
Here are some more ways friends are helpful at work:
- You have advocates.
- You have someone to echo your ideas when you feel unheard.
- Friends boost morale.
- Workplace relationships in general boost productivity, according to a wealth of research.
- You have people who understand your stressors.
- Work friends can offer a break or relief from home stresses.
How Do You Make New Friends at Work?
Making new friends at work is easy considering how much time you spend with coworkers. Here are some steps to forming friendships in the workplace.
1. Make the First Move.
If you’re an extrovert, you may have no problem making the first move. But up to 50 percent of the population is thought to be introverted or have introverted qualities, according to Psychology Today, which means that plenty of people do struggle with initiating conversation.
While it can be uncomfortable to introduce yourself, the workplace in the perhaps the best place to do so, because it can generate a professional, helpful atmosphere. If you work in an office, introduce yourself to someone close by. If you work remotely, jump into an online community.
2. Be Invested.
When Aziz Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg teamed up to study modern dating, they found men were likelier to get dates when they referenced previous conversations. That’s because these “references” were signs the men had not only talked—they had listened, too.
The same idea applies to building professional relationships. While you may not be pining for a date, simply alluding to a previous conversation shows your listening skills and interest.
3. Be Genuine.
Faking it can be tempting, but we’ve all been around people who are a little too nice. Your communication techniques may be holding you back if you're not genuine, which means to just be honest.
When you’re the real you, you’re encouraging others to be the real them. Plus, if the "real you" doesn’t click with someone, you'll know right away. No need to fake something that isn't there.
4. Don’t Make Assumptions.
When discussing how to make new friends at work, assumptions matter. After all, we make assumptions every day.
When you hear someone sighing, you may assume they're annoyed; when you hear someone whispering, you may think they're gossiping. This is part of how we collect information; we are Sherlocks, constantly deducing the world around us.
And while many of our assumptions are harmless, some can be problematic. You may, for example, wrongly assume someone is rude when in actuality they struggle with social cues. It's better to learn than to assume, and learning happens through organic, genuine interactions.
What Are Times When You Shouldn't Be Friends?
While we should strive toward friendships in the workplace, there are situations in which professional friendships simply can't function. Here are two examples.
1. If the Person Works for You/You Work for Them
You can appreciate your boss or employee and build relationships with senior management, but friendship is virtually impossible when a power dynamic is involved. Addressing issues with a manager is very different than confiding in a friend.
When you bring issues to a manager, you're hoping they can use their position to bring about a solution. Your boss can be a great resource when you're looking to grow or pivot in the company, or if you need professional guidance.
The downside to this, of course, is the risk associated with power. Hopefully, your relationship with your manager is healthy, and you can openly and comfortably address problems without fear of retribution. Still, the opportunity for retribution (however small it may be) eliminates the possibility for friendship. Friends can't terminate you; managers can.
In the same way, if you're a manager, boundaries are crucial. Your employees are eager to please you, so don't discuss anything that could be considered offensive or unprofessional. Because of the power dynamic, employees are less likely to push back if they feel uncomfortable.
2. If it's Forced
Finally, don't force it. Even if you're the friendliest, bubbliest, most likable, most positive person out there, you're not going to be friends with everyone. And that's okay.
Of course, there are times when friends in the workplace could hurt your career. But, generally speaking, friends are a positive.
If you try to connect with coworkers and have no luck, it may be time to join another community, like a gym, book club, or Meetup group. You may even feel your current work culture just isn't a good fit; if that's the case, there's nothing wrong with looking for other work or starting your own side-hustle. These are great ways to meet like-minded people organically.
If nothing else, you're reading this article because you want to learn how to make new friends, and that's certainly a start. There are several ways to form new relationships. You just have to get out there and start doing it.
Kaitlin Westbrook is a content writer for Vecteezy.com. She covers business, creative content, professional writing, and more. When she’s not writing, she enjoys movies and her Pomeranian. You can connect with her on Twitter.