The 5 Most Important Rules of Turning Work Relationships Into Real Friendships

If you’re lucky, you don’t hate your co-workers. In fact, if you’re really lucky, you probably like them a lot, and maybe you even want to turn the relationships into full-on friendships (ah, scandalous!). After all, you see these people all day, every day, so it only makes sense you want to take it to the next level.

It’s normal to want friends at work—and it’s actually crucial to your career success. Because as I said, you spend most of your time on the job, so when you don’t like the people you work with, it makes getting through the day a lot harder. When you enjoy each other’s company, you’re bound to have a lot more happy (and productive) days.

But before you start making friendship bracelets, there are a few rules to getting buddy-buddy with your colleagues.

1. Don’t Push the Boss-Employee Relationship

GIF courtesy of GIPHY

I’m going to get real for a second: No matter how much you and your manager have in common, and how much fun you have together, he or she is still your boss.

This doesn’t mean you can’t talk about non-work stuff or spend time together outside of the office—it just means you have to be a bit more cognizant of what you choose to discuss. The same goes for being friendly with your direct reports.

Regardless of your company culture, you 100% need to remember that you want this person to respect you—and that a few, small choice comments can erode respect all too quickly.

2. Do Be Considerate

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Your work buddy may live in the same neighborhood as you, or they may live in a town you’ve never heard of. They may be married with kids, or they may cringe at the thought of a family.

Friendship doesn’t discriminate, but how you choose to hang out can. If, for example, your co-worker can’t do happy hour with the rest of the team because they have to pick up their children, be open to suggesting ideas that happen during the workday—say, substituting happy hour for lunch at your favorite restaurant. Or, if you know they don’t drink, plan to grab coffee rather than drinks.

Acknowledge the fact that while everyone may want to hang out, they’re all coming from different places, with different priorities and different backgrounds. So rather than writing people off because they don’t want to do exactly what you want to do, be flexible. You’ll make way more valuable connections that way.

3. Don’t Be Clique-y

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Having a group of friends in the workplace is great! But you know what’s not so great? Being the adult who started a middle school clique in a grown-up office.

By only hanging out with a few people and not making the effort to get to know others, you’re likely alienating your other colleagues—and honestly, probably making your job harder in the process. (Josie’s far less likely to do that favor for you if she discovers that you invited everyone but her to grab coffee.)

So, every once in a while, break the routine of only hanging out with your favorites and get to know the rest of your team.

4. Do Be Yourself

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You may feel inclined to act a certain way in order to fit into the company culture and make friends.

But real, honest friendships form when you’re yourself, not pretending to be someone else (I know, am I a Hallmark card or what?). Plus, if you want to bring the relationship to a second location—a.k.a., leave the office—you don’t want people to be confused by the way you act when you’re not sitting at a desk. Finally, putting up a face is just plain exhausting—and on top of everything else you have to do, a waste of energy.

As a result of being yourself, you may not click with everyone you work with, and that’s OK. As long as you find yourself in the company of people who like you for you.

5. Don’t Rush It

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Like any friendship, the ones you make at work take time. You may be only a few months into your new role and wondering why you don’t have a work wife yet.

Or, you may be desperate to invite everyone you work with to your birthday party—before you’ve established your reputation as a hard worker first (what I’m saying is that you want everyone to know that you’re great at your job before you let them see you three beers deep).

If you’re feeling a little lonely, cut yourself some slack, give it time, and read this article on four ways to make friends.

If you’re more than a few months in and still struggling, you should ask yourself some questions, such as: Are you attending optional social events? Have you asked anyone to grab coffee? Are you sitting at your desk all day with your headphones on? It could be that you work in an unfriendly office (and if so, I’m sorry!), or it could be that you’re unintentionally sending the message that you’re not there to make friends.

As long as you follow these (highly recommended) guidelines, you’re on the right track for forming meaningful connections with your colleagues—connections that won’t just make even the worst job bearable, but your life outside work better, too.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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