There’s nothing better than having a bestie at work. You get to check in with each other every day. You have emotional support with whatever is going on in your personal life and work-life, and you have someone to go to lunch with or chat over coffee.
This type of relationship can make work much more fulfilling and increase job satisfaction and well-being. But, how do you find such a friend? What if you can’t seem to gel with anyone, or there is no one you particularly want to gel with? What if you are a natural introvert?
This guide outlines ways to make friends at work. It suggests ways to initiate connections with colleagues when you start a new job and find mutually supportive relationships.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the effects of isolation. According to SHRM, for people who work remotely, loneliness is one of the biggest struggles employees experience and is linked to depression, lower quality of life, and health problems. What’s more, a study by a U.K-based career company found that 66 percent of Millennials found it hard to make friends.
Social interaction is a huge part of why people go to work, and most everyone values having a friend at work. Still, if you are new to a workplace or feel naturally uncomfortable in social situations, there are ways to build meaningful relationships with colleagues that feel natural.
It’s important to remember some golden rules: not to try too hard, not to expect too much too soon, and to be approachable and nonjudgmental. Try to be the person that you would want to be around. Let’s dive in and explore what this means.
There’s nothing more off-putting than someone who tries to push themselves on you. We all have busy lives, and many of us just don’t have the time or the energy for a new friend. It’s sad, but it’s true. That said, if someone is fun to be around, we want to spend time with them.
We’re not saying that you have to be super funny or uber charismatic, that’s not it at all. Think about it, the people we want to be around are kind, understanding, they listen to us, and they don’t judge. They actually do very little; they are just there almost as a sounding board and full of empathy. This is a good place to start. Wait for people to approach you, and then be interested in them. They will like you immediately.
For a friendship to develop, first, there has to be mutual interest. Then, there has to be trust. At work, you already have the workplace and its inhabitants as mutual interests, but the trust factor takes a while. If a colleague tells you something juicy, do you keep it to yourself or repeat it to others? When someone tells you something in confidence, keep it to yourself, because you would like them to do the same for you.
Some people can be self-righteous. They judge others based on their own biases. We all have innate biases, but we can also put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and try to understand their perspective. If you can do that, people will want to come to you as a sounding board because they will feel safe opening up to you.
Who are you more likely to chat with as you stand in line for coffee? The person who is smiling and says, “Good Morning” or the person who is fidgeting with their phone with a frown on their face? If you have open body language and seem happy and relaxed, people are more likely to strike up a conversation with you.
Relationships are about reciprocating. If someone helps you with something, help them back when they need a hand. If someone invites you to lunch, invite them back another day. Building strong relationships is about giving to others and reciprocating.
Now we’ve outlined some rules about how you should act, we can turn to more practical steps you can take to build friendships at work.
Are you thrust into a small cubicle close to another colleague? That can be awkward to start with, but small talk can help to break the ice. Start with a question and see how they respond. It’s best to stick to work-related questions, for example, “So, how long have you worked here?” If they seem to engage and ask you a question back, that’s a good start. If they seem disinterested, wait for another time. At some point, they will have to talk to you when you are in such close quarters.
The same strategy can be used at the water cooler, the break room, and work events.
If you sit at your desk and each lunch, two things will happen. You won’t enjoy a mental break, and you will not make any friends. Eating in the break room will mean that you will meet others because it’s hard for someone to walk in and not say anything because they would appear rude. Use this as an opportunity to introduce yourself and find out who they are. People tend to open up more when they are not in their cubicle or strictly “on the clock.”
Once you’ve exchanged a few pleasantries with a colleague during the workday, you can get a sense of who they are. It’s natural in a work environment to want to ask for career advice or bounce ideas off a colleague, and having coffee with someone is a convenient time to do that. When you have a question or a concern, ask someone if they have time to discuss it with you over coffee.
This is one way to have an off-the-record chat, and most people are more than willing to help out a colleague. Lunch is another option, but the coffee shop is a good starting point for workplace friendships.
Most companies have out-of-work activities as part of their company culture, be it a happy hour or a lunch, and these are a good way to meet people and mingle. That said, some people loathe happy hours and find it difficult to navigate larger social gatherings. If that is the case, you could take the initiative and start your own activity.
There might be a group who would like to play chess, bridge, or participate in a book club after work or at lunch. Some might like to go for a group walk or run. It’s worth a try and is a simple way to find close friends with shared interests and help others to do the same. There may be others who feel isolated too!
So, everyone likes donuts don’t they? Even if you haven't seen others do it up to now, which would be hard to believe, bring a box of donuts to work. It’s a friendly gesture, particularly from someone who is relatively new.
It’s also an opportunity to quickly introduce yourself to anyone you don’t know, and say “Hi, I brought donuts to say thank you for all the help I’ve received from everyone this first week,” or something to that effect. If you bake, bring your own cookies. You might end up with requests for your recipe.
As you take on more projects at work, you will be exposed to more people and spend more time with them on projects. You will find that it becomes easier to build work friendships with people involved in the same projects, who have common interests, or are in similar situations.
Hopefully, these tips will get you over the first few days or weeks in a new office situation and well on the way to finding a best friend and valuable relationships at work.