We already know that not having friends at work can make you stupid, but is there a way to create real friendships at work that don’t feel forced?
Psychologist and author Ron Friedman explains in his book “The Best Place To Work” that there are three ingredients necessary for friendship — physical proximity, familiarity, and similarity — that you could easily find in the workplace.
But there’s one thing that’s a little harder to come by at work that can turn the possibility of friendship into a reality: sharing secrets.
According to relationship researchers, for two people to deeply connect, it’s not enough to just talk shop — both people need to share intimate details about themselves. And as the relationship grows, the level of self-disclosure also needs to grow.
Unsurprisingly, researchers from Washington State University found
this to be as true for work friendships as romantic relationships. When they interviewed coworkers to determine how they became friends, they discovered a pattern of self-disclosure that included sharing problems from one’s personal, home, and work life.
But in a competitive work environment, is sharing emotionally sensitive information with coworkers really wise? Here are a few tips for opening up the right way in the workplace:
1. Start on a positive note.
While sharing intimate information can help strengthen a relationship, Friedman says it’s best to start with a foundation of shared positive experiences before divulging sensitive information. Your first few conversations with a colleague are disproportionally important because of the importance we place on first impressions, he says. “You want to use those early interactions to demonstrate warmth and skill — not harp on personal weaknesses.”
2. Don’t rush the process.
“Self-disclosure is not something you want to rush into,” Friedman says.
By starting small, sharing incrementally, and slowly moving towards divulging more emotionally sensitive personal information, you can become more confident in sharing truly personal information about yourself, explains Shasta Nelson, author of “Friendships Don’t Just Happen” and a facilitator of friendships in the workplace.
3. Keep most interactions positive.
As a general rule of thumb, for every negative discussion you have, Nelson suggests having five positive discussions. “Offset whining, the sharing of hard things, or work stress with bonding through adding positive feelings to those around you.”
4. Search for similarity.
Friedman says similarity is a basic building block of friendship. He suggests striking up conversations about interests you have in common with colleagues, “whether it’s rooting for the Mets, binging on ‘House of Cards,’ or raising kids around the same age.”
5. Find areas of common struggle.
Friedman advises looking for collaborative assignments where you and your colleague need one another to succeed. “It’s easier to connect with others when it’s clear you’re both on the same side and neither one of you can get the job done alone.”
6. Open up about non-work topics.
According to Friedman, the more people talk about non-work topics, the more likely they are to be friends. Rather than droning on about your boss or an impossible deadline, consider talking about your plans to go kayaking this weekend, meeting your partner’s family, or your newest hobby.
7. Share outside of work.
Nelson cautions friends at work to focus their private bonding and sharing to off-work hours. She believes coworkers should designate their work hours as time when the whole office can benefit from their friendship. “Be known as friends who are inclusive, not exclusive; as people who bring laughter to the office and who are friendly to everyone,” Nelson says.
8. Evaluate the friendship together.
Discussing the friendship with one another, especially concerning any boundaries that might be important to either of you at work, is vital according to Nelson. She suggests asking each other, “What, if anything, about being friends with someone at work worries you?” and “What can we do to help alleviate that worry?”