The workplace a fertile spot for relationship development because—let’s face it—we spend more time in the office than we do at home. But it’s also the perfect place to cruise for professional allies because right beside our cubicles are dozens of other people who share our interests, schedules, and the all-important access to the boss, points out Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., psychologist and friendship expert.
Bonus: If you are able to snag a work friend or two, “a confidante in the office will not only make the day go by faster but it will help you enjoy your work a lot more,” says millennial career expert Jill Jacinto. Who doesn’t want that? So here’s how to score friends and professional allies at work.
1. Take advantage of group outings. Whether your company hosts a weekly happy hour, optional town-hall-style meetings, or posts open positions for its softball team, Jacinto says you should say “yes” more often than “no” to these invitations in order to make new work friends. That’s because “these scenarios pull you out of your work bubble and can connect you with people in many different departments,” she says. “This is a perfect opportunity to learn more about your company but also find friends across the company.”
2. Resist gossiping. Gabbing about the weird poster Anne has pinned to her cubicle while you’re at the communal coffee spot may seem like a good ice breaker, but Levine says that participating in—or worse, initiating—office gossip can stunt the growth of work relationships.
“Be cautious not to spread rumors or gossip,” she warns, “because they can spread like wildfire through a workplace. They can poison the environment and reflect badly on you.”
3. Eat in the communal kitchen. You’re surrounded—probably, quite literally—at work. So, who could blame you if your instinct is to grab a solo lunch, or sip your coffee while you hide in the stairwell? “But slow down,” encourages Jacinto. Stop by the communal kitchen on your way out and “chit chat with your coworkers—ask them about their days, weekend plans, their favorite Keurig flavor or lunch spot,” she says. “Just get to know them.”
4. Offer to help. “If your coworker sends you a Slack message and wants your advice, take advantage of them reaching out to build a relationship,” advises Jacinto. How so? Instead of replying in kind—whether on Slack or via email—offer to set up a face-to-face meeting so that you can take on the issue together, Jacinto says. Then, “remember to insert some chit chat, like, ‘Did you watch the new season of #Girlboss on Netflix?’ or ‘Have you heard about that Frye Festival fiasco?’ or ‘Any vacation plans coming up?’” she suggests.
5. Ask a coworker on a date. No, we don’t mean in a romantic sense! But ask a colleague to get out of the office for a coffee break, or see if she might be willing to grab a drink or a bite to eat after work, suggests Jacinto. “Placing yourselves in spaces outside the office can help your friendship grow,” she explains. “People tend to be more relaxed outside of the office and let their guard down. Just don’t spend the whole time talking about work.”
Of course, if an outside get-together does turn from friendship to romance—it can happen accidentally!—then “tread very slowly,” warns Levine. After all, “if things don't work out, you can't get ‘divorced,’” she says. “You'll have to be with that person every day.”
6. Find common ground beyond your cubicles. As Jacinto mentioned above, a big key to making work friends is to actually talk about things other than work. If you can get to know coworkers’ interests outside the office, you may find some common ground on which to build a friendship, she says. “I had a coworker who I always traded music with and this led us becoming friends and going to concerts together,” Jacinto shares.
7. Remember: Not all friendships last forever. If you make new friends at work, realize that not each one of them will always be in your corner. “Some workplace friendships do turn sour,” warns Levine. “If that happens, you need to remain civil and professional. You don't want to let the breakup interfere with your work or make co-workers feel uncomfortable.”