Jan Yager, Ph.D.
Friendship at Work
By Jan Yager, Ph.D.
TRUE OR FALSE? If you have a best friend at work, you're the luckiest person in the world? Probably false. In researching friendship since the early 1980s, I have discovered that casual friends will usually take you further at work than best or close ones. Of course, outside of our romantic or family relationships, everyone would like to have at least one or even a few best or close friends, but, except in rare instances, preferably not at work. Casual friendship--genuine friendship but at a lower level of intimacy --goes far at work. It might even blossom into a close or best friendship. Casual friends will make that extra effort to be there for you, as long as you do not ask too often or too much of them.

To move a work-related acquaintance or business association up to a "friendship," it may help if you start by moving the relationship out of its completely work-based situation. For example, suggest playing tennis together; go out to dinner with your spouses; invite your new friend to the movies.

What's the best predictor of longevity in a friendship? Shared values. So, while you're developing this new friendship, be aware of what values you are observing in your friend. Especially in a workplace friendship, issues such as honesty, ethics, respect, protocol, and conscience will be paramount concerns. Something as simple as, "Are phone calls returned within a reasonable time?" may give you valuable information about how you will treated by your friend.

Casual friends make a valuable contribution at work and in business by aiding productivity, fostering a greater sense of teamwork, providing a sounding board for your ideas or your projects, and helping you feel as if you are part of a "family" in the world of work.

I have developed casual work friendships with numerous consultants, speakers, entrepreneurs, and business owners, male and female. (Although most of my close or best friendships are with other women, I also have casual friendships with the opposite sex.Because it is a casual friendship, without the sharing of personal intimacies, it is "safer" and less open to the gossip and mixed messages that might be caused by work-based opposite sex close or best friendships). I am typical in the way that casual business friendships provide me with information, camaraderie, and conversation.

Such business-related friendships make work more fun; they foster creativity and enthusiasm as you laugh together, brainstorm, share contacts and experiences, and relax. Friendship benefits your career in other ways: friends may help you get a job, inform you of a new position, or even bring you a new customer. In my research I discovered that over one-third of new hires learn about their current job through friends.

A best friendship at work is rare, and it is risky. Usually, the friendship preceded the current job situation. Both parties must make sure neither the work nor the friendship suffer or that any confidences are shared with others at work beyond their friendship. The rules for cultivating, and maintaining, casual business friendships are similar to the ones you need to follow for close or best friendships, just at a lower level of intimacy, namely:
  • be an active listener (really hear what someone is saying, not just waiting your turn to say what you want to say)
  • show interest in what your friend is going through as well as his or her business interests and concerns
  • remember your friend at the holidays, even if all you do is send a card, personally signed by you
  • don't badmouth your friend to anyone
  • update your knowledge of your friend as you keep him or her aware of the changes in your life and career
  • guard against harmful or destructive friendships
  • remember the "fun factor" in friendship so your friends will want to be around you, and genuinely care about helping you to succeed.

This is an edited version of the article that originally appeared in Personal Excellence, November 1997. All rights reserved. It may not be reproduced without written permission from the copyright holder, Dr. Jan Yager. Copyright © 1997, 1998, and 2002 by Jan Yager, Ph.D. e-mail: jyager@aol.com Contact Dr. Yager, sociologist, workplace expert, consultant, and speaker, to find out how the power of friendship could help your business or personal success. (To book Dr. Yager as a speaker, you may also contact your favorite speaker bureau.)

Dr. Jan Yager's books on friendship include Friendshifts®: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives (Hannacroix Creek Books, Inc., 2nd edition, 1999) and When Friendship Hurts: How to Deal With Friends Who Betray, Abandon, or Wound You (Simon & Schuster, Inc., Fireside Books, July 2002), available at local or online bookstores www.amazon.com, www.bn.com, www.booksense.com.or by calling Just Books, [{203)-869-5023 (in CT) or toll-free, orders only (800) 874-4568] or CNCBooks in Virginia [(804) 330-4111 or toll-free, orders only (888)533-5303].

Jan Yager, Ph.D., on the web: http://www.janyager.com or http://www.janyager.com/friendship. In development: www.whenfriendshiphurts.com

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