Making friends as an adult can be tricky; making friends at work can be even trickier. On the one hand, you want to show that you’re friendly and outgoing, but on the other, you don’t want to overdo it. It sounds nice to have work pals, but it’s also nice to keep some separation between your professional and personal lives. So what do you do? And is it worth it?
In short, yes, making friends at work is a good idea; it just requires a little effort on your part to do it right (and trust us, we’ve done it wrong). Thankfully, the experts can help. We’ve pulled together some of the best research from surveys and experts to help you navigate this part of the working world puzzle.
Should You Make Friends at Work?
In sum, you definitely should. And that’s according to a whole boatload of data. Let’s take a look.
- Make you happier on the job: In a 2014 survey conducted by LinkedIn, 46 percent of working professionals said they believe that work friendships make them happier both within and outside of work.
- Up your work performance: LinkedIn’s data also reveals that work friendships might help your performance at work, too. Interestingly, younger professionals (24 years and under) report that their performance is most strongly tied to their social lives at work:
- 57% say their work friendships make them more motivated.
- 39% say those friendships make them more productive.
- Boost your mood: A 2019 survey from Jobs.ie of 2,770 people found that 55 percent of workers believe work friends boost their productivity, and 74 percent say they improve their moods.
- Increase your likelihood of staying at your company: Having friends at work also makes you more likely to stay with your company in the long term.
- Help you engage with work more: About 30 percent of workers report having a best friend in the workplace, and those workers enjoy strikingly better work outcomes, according to Gallup survey data. Workers with best friends produce work of higher quality, report greater well-being, and are about seven times as likely to be engaged with their work.
How Do I Start a Conversation at Work?
So now you know that it’s worth it to form relationships on the job. But how do you actually do it?
In a professional environment, experts have found that following a few straightforward concepts can help you hit it off with your coworkers from the start. We pulled these highlights from the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Bradberry and Greaves, which can help you when making friends at work.
- Bring up positive topics: Even though work has its ups and downs, you’ll be more likable if you begin conversations with happy topics and positive statements. Keep early conversations light, and save the commiseration for after a friendship is established.
- Ask questions and listen to the answers: People love to be heard and to feel like someone cares about what they say. Brainstorm a couple of questions that are related to work, and use them as a springboard to keep the conversation going.
- Show positive body language: Small actions like leaning slightly toward the person who is speaking and uncrossing your arms can make the difference between you seeming friendly or aloof.
- Nail the first impression: Research shows that people form an opinion about you within about the first seven seconds of meeting you. Instead of fearing those seconds, think of them as an opportunity to give a warm smile and ask one of the questions you already brainstormed. You’ll ace the seven-second test every time.
How Do I Get Closer to Coworkers?
Work is actually a pretty ideal place to move from being acquaintances to close friends. The ingredients for genuine friendship are likely to be there naturally. What are those ingredients you ask? Proximity, familiarity, and similarity, suggests Dr. Ron Friedman, and all of them can be found in the workplace.
For example, you work in the same building, you get familiar with each other over time, and your company probably hires people who have at least some similar interests. Given some time and care, you have a very good chance of making friends at work—and lasting ones at that.
Researchers describe a consistent pattern for how these work friendships play out:
- Start the friendship by sharing common ground about your goals at work, keeping things mostly positive and superficial.
- Become closer friends by sharing more personal experiences. This stage might involve sharing problems about both your work and personal life.
- Get closer to best friend status by experiencing life events together. In other words, becoming best friends depends on the passage of time and bonding that comes with it.
To sum it all up…
Making friends at work is both important and doable. If you make a positive first impression, you have a very good shot at building up close friendships just by being yourself. But real friendships take time to bloom, suggests research. Keep things short and positive at first, and you’ll know when it’s time to open up later on.
To set yourself up for social success, brainstorm a few ice-breaking questions about common work goals to ask a coworker the next time there’s an opportunity. You might just find yourself happier and more productive as a result.
Your turn: How do you go about making friends at work? Share your top tips in the comments below.
For more ways to make your workplace better, check out our guide on staying positive on the job.