As the world gets smaller and the political situation in many formerly stable regions becomes inhospitable for ordinary people and their families, it’s easy to forget that we have far more in common with each other than what sets us apart. Narratives of fear and unnecessary competition permeate our homes and workplaces, and it feels like ‘community’ has become a dirty word.
The daft thing is that whatever end of the political spectrum you’re drawn to, having friends, being generous without prejudice (not just to your family and people that look like you), and learning to trust and love other people can be an uncynical way of furthering your own career and wealth!
It turns out that friendship is good for you. And friendship in the workplace is a very good idea, beyond efforts to ‘network’ or create factions or influential cliques. We’re talking here about the real thing: listening to and supporting each other in business and in the unofficial business of passing the time of day in the office.
So why should you take time out of your precious number-crunching to buddy up with those around you at work?
Reasons to make friends at work
Well, quite aside from the fact that you might find you enjoy the actual friendship, having friends at work makes you more productive. In particular, you’re seven times more likely to be engaged with what you do if you have one or more good friends around you. And unsurprisingly, the support of your friends and professional network gives you confidence and the resilience to bounce back from failure and to take on challenges that you might otherwise avoid.
The effects of friendship on ambitious professionals are even broader than this. Good relationships at work are good for your health. Loneliness itself is stressful and can lead to heart attacks and strokes; people with more friends have less of the fibrinogen protein which is known to clot the blood. Social time has also been shown to reduce the chances of having a bad (stressful) day.
Good health is an important priority in its own right. But having a healthy heart, circulation, and blood pressure enables you to work and think better and longer. Being less stressed means that you’ll treat those around you – whether your clients or your family – with more patience and kindness. That’s good for them, good for you, good for society – and good for business.
Finally, before we look at how to a couple of ways to actually make those friends: workplace friends can boost job satisfaction by 50%. Even if you love your job, loving it more – and getting that hit of satisfaction when you do good, rather than just constantly clambering for more – makes it all worthwhile.
Okay, so if you’re not actually good at making friends in the workplace or you’ve spent so much time getting sucked into the work and your ambitions that you’ve forgotten how, here are some ideas on what to do to strengthen those bonds in the office.
Small talk is important. Even if it feels like a waste of time, it’s how we bond, form our picture of the world, and share vital ‘under the radar’ emotional information about each other. Lots of people don’t like it because it’s hard or seems pointless, but both of these issues can be solved by just doing it better. And that takes skills and practice.
The first step is to actually care. Remember there’s a soul inside that colleague, boss, cleaner. They could be your sister, brother, you. They’ve been through stuff this morning that you can’t imagine. They did something amazing last night that they’re bursting to tell. Or they’re just as jaded, ambitious, or lonely as you.
Ask questions because you want to know the answer. Ask open questions – where the answer can’t be yes or no – and they’re more likely to throw you back some info that you can use to further the conversation and make it even more interesting than you imagined. Without making it too personal (this is the workplace, after all) imagine what this person can tell you that nobody else in the world can – even if it’s just a feeling or a passing experience.
It can help to do this outside of the work setting. So instead of sitting at your computer with a sad sandwich over lunch (which is bad for you anyway), trying making a lunch date with a couple of colleagues. It will transform your afternoon, and your future. If it doesn’t go well, what have you lost? Just another meaningless lunch surfing online.
Work events are another good chance to make this connection. Again, they can seem like a waste of time to some people, especially if you’re already convinced that you’ve got nothing in common with those around you. But perhaps you do, and they feel the same two. It takes work to crack some nuts open.
Network professionally to find casual friends
While the emphasis here is on finding people to enjoy your daily work with, rather than those who might one day help you further your career, professional networking skills can still come in handy. For example, a ‘can do’ attitude to interdepartmental opportunities makes you more likely to meet new people, in new configurations, and to have new experiences from which your friendships can flourish.
Being proactive about being helpful to other people can also be a great boost if it’s done in the right spirit: if it’s about helping, not dominating. Don’t force assistance or advice on your colleagues, but offer it if they’re struggling. This can help build trust, and again a shared experience from which to develop that friendship.
Life is short, and happiness can’t be counted in dollars and cents but neither can it be counted in Facebook friend numbers. It’s about the depth and meaning of your relationships and how they affect your daily life. To start making that change, take a look at this new guide to workplace friendships from CashNetUSA.