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Happiness at work often lies within the company you keep. Whether you spend free moments catching up at the coffee pot or laughing at your latest viral video swap, it’s clear that connecting with friends at work makes a significant impact on how much you enjoy your job as a whole.
Recent studies have found that almost 40 percent of people list their co-workers as the main reason they love coming to the office each day, and that these friendships even maintain the power to prevent us from burning out. Yet, according to Ron Friedman, Ph.D., an expert on the topic of work friendships and author of The Best Place to Work, friendship at the office is still one of the most overlooked factors when it comes to creating a positive, productive and creativity-driven workplace.
“Studies show that when we are close to our colleagues, we’re more committed, more engaged, and less likely to quit,” Friedman tells The Huffington Post. “When we feel supported by those around us, we can devote less attention to whether or not we’re fitting in and pay more attention to actually doing our work. We’re also more willing to ask for help, which gives us more resources to succeed.”
It’s also important to recognize that establishing and nurturing these work-centric friendships can be quite different from those outside the office. There are unique boundaries, expectations, dos and don’ts when it comes to professional friendships — even if you hang out like BFFs on the weekends. Learning which elements of friendship matter most on the clock and acting on them could help you increase your workplace happiness, boost your productivity, make new friendships and become the person everyone wants to be friends with in your office.
Ready to look out for more than just the bottom line at work? Here are seven keys to becoming an amazing friend for a fellow coworker (and how to make a work friend for yourself).
Share the same space — and not just in the office.
According to Christine Riordan, Ph.D., a management professor at the University of Kentucky who researches work friendships, we tend to grow closer to people who are in close-proximity to us.
“You are three times as likely to have a close-knit workgroup if your physical environment makes it easy to socialize,” she tells The Huffington Post.
But since not all work environments are designed to support these kinds of interactions, it’s important to utilize the spaces between work to build your friendships, says Friedman. Take time outside of the board room to bond with coworkers — before or after a team meeting, on a lunchtime walk around the block, or to the office kitchen for your afternoon pick-me-up cup of coffee.
Keep competition out of it.
One of the greatest challenges with work friendships can be separating the person you’re trying to befriend from the role they play in the company hierarchy. But be wary of competitive feelings, warns Riordan, because that perceived challenge can harm your new relationship more than help it.
“Research demonstrates that we have a tendency to become closer to people with whom we are pursuing common work goals, such as a major project or hitting a target, and with whom we engage in some kind of problem solving — either organizational or personal,” says Riordan. So the next time you begin comparing yourself to your colleague, take a step back and remember you are on the same team.
Open up to find common ground.
“Search for similarity,” says Friedman. “Studies show similarity is a basic building block of human friendship. Strike up conversations about interests you have in common with colleagues, whether it’s rooting for the same sports team, watching the same TV show or raising kids around the same age.”
This common ground established around topics outside of your job descriptions will help create a deeper, more enduring bond on which to base your friendship. And the more meaningful connection you two create, the stronger and more beneficial your friendship will be.
Become (work) partners in crime.
“Successful friendships are the ones in which friends play a specific role in your life, whether it is motivating you, helping you succeed, standing up for you, sharing your passions, helping you get what you need to do your job or providing advice and direction,” says Riordan.
Friedman suggests identifying areas of common struggle between you and your work friend and working together to overcome them. Take on collaborative assignments where you are reliant on one another to achieve success. That way, you learn what it’s like to be on same page — both at work and otherwise.
Love what you do — and don’t be afraid to show it.
You don’t have to be obnoxious or a super-peppy cheerleader about it, but making it known that the work you contribute each day is something you feel excited about can spread like positive wildfire, encouraging those around you as well as simply making you a fun person to be around.
“The people we’re close with influence our mood, attitude and behaviors — often unconsciously,” says Friedman. “One study that I conducted with researchers at the University of Rochester found that simply being in the same room with someone who is passionate about their work — even if they’re doing a completely different job — can increase your motivation and lead you to perform better. But the reverse is also true. If you surround yourself with colleagues who are alienated from their job, chances are, that viewpoint will rub off on you.”
Be respectful and trustworthy.
Two aspects of work friendships that don’t vary much from traditional ones, according to Riordan, are the needs for respect and trust between both parties. While a mutual respect ensures that each person values what the other has to contribute (to a work project and otherwise), trust allows both people to make those contributions in an open, straightforward fashion without fear of judgment or consequences. These strong, shared communication skills strengthen a friendship bond as well as make for a more unified working environment.
Don’t be afraid to be your true self — no filter necessary.
At the end of the day, don’t be afraid to diverge from your work to-do list with your office friends.
“Open up about non-work topics,” suggests Friedman. “Research shows that the more people talk about non-work topics, the more likely they are to be friends. Paradoxically, all work all the time makes you a weaker employee.”
Show them who you really are, because that self-disclosure is one of the most important factors in developing a close bond with another person — even better if they do the same. Whether you’re discussing life outside the job or just sharing the goofier (and typically restrained) side of your personality, know that just being you will help you build a significant relationship in your life that will have a dramatic impact on your work happiness, productivity and overall well-being.