Making Friends at Work

Making Friends at Work

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Shortly after being hired for my dream job, I was invited to join an all-staff meeting with my future team and close colleagues. I was a bundle of nerves and excitement as I hopped into a cab and rushed into the city for the important day of introductions.

As I joined the meeting of perfectly outfitted, influential people, I worried that the ugly underbelly of the next season would be found in the characters I would have to endure. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by the kindness and sincerity of those I encountered.

Soon, I had met everyone I would be working with closely except for one  the girl who was being hailed as the architect of the meeting and the mind behind many details. I feared her. It could not be possible that in a city like Washington, D.C., my office could be filled with only such kind people. Certainly, she would be the one to unleash my every insecurity with her overstated competence.     

When I finally met her, it turned out I was wonderfully wrong. She was indeed sharp and competent and could have thrown her weight around, but she didn’t. She was kind and humble and a team player in every sense of the word. She sought to learn from me and affirmed my strengths instead of her own. I came to respect her greatly.

Now, years later, I consider her and the other women I worked with in that office among my dearest friends. The encouragement and sharpening they offer me in my career and in Christian character is priceless, and I’m so thankful that instead of stodgy professionalism and catty rivalry, we each managed to build one another up in an industry stereotyped by aggression and competition. We dove beneath the waves of demanding projects and high-pressure events, and found each other’s hearts.

Not easy, but worth it.

Having friends at work is not always effortless. Insecurities, stress and competing agendas can make the time between 9 and 5 a subtle battleground that erects walls between teammates, while others err on the side of being so casual and familiar that they compromise the goals of an organization with their lackadaisical approach to the workplace. These extremes have motivated the common advice to not make friends at work, but recent studies and articles have highlighted that workplace satisfaction and productivity are tied to positive friendships at work.

In a recent Forbes article, the author highlights that people today are hungry for authentic interactions in all areas of life, including at work. A biblical worldview coincides with these findings through the established understanding that as men and women created in God’s image, we were designed for relationship with Him and with each other.

As followers of Christ, we need to not lose sight of this. We need to have eternal lenses for how we view all of our relationships, including professional ones. If we get caught up in our own insecurities or become tunnel-visioned about maintaining an image, we stand to lose out on the kingdom purposes behind each season and each relationship.

The Bible instructs us to value people for more than their functionality and to esteem them above our personal agendas no matter how noble our end goal might be. Philippians 2:3 implores us to, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” We need to ask God for insight into how to interact at work with this perspective of our colleagues.

Start small.

If friendships at work are hard for you, start by small consistent actions of kindness. You don’t need to pour out every detail of your life with your office mate, but be approachable. Be cheerful. Say good morning. Occasionally pick up an extra cup of coffee on your way into work for someone. Expect good things from one another. Instead of fearing intimidating co-workers, learn from them. Resist the seduction of pride and mistrust, and you may find a richness in your work day that goes on to bless your life for a long time to come.

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  • That's a really great article.  Thanks !!

    I would add that you shouldn't bring your past hurts from previous workplaces into something new.  Every new place is a  new start.

    One of the fastest ways to make friends at work is to share food.  Find something you can share with everyone - esp. if you can make it yourself.  

    Also be willing to take responsibility for things even

    if they are not really your fault.   There are too many people who try to throw each other under the bus these days - if there is a way you can take some responsiblity to lessen the burden on someone else it often is helpful.

  • --Making friends with co-workers is good.  Having said that, let me add my own personal caveats...

    Be cordial and friendly with the opposite sex in the workplace, but focus on establishing friendships with the same sex at first.  I'm not paranoid or afraid of the opposite sex (far from it).  I've just seen it go haywire when a well-meaning man tries to be cordial with women or vice-versa.  So, in the beginning, establish solid relationships with co-workers of the same sex.  Then, gradually make your way to having balanced/boundary-observant friendships with the opposite sex.

    As P.C. as our world is today, some boundaries and common sensibilities still need to be observed.

    I will now take cover as other blog-posters aim their AK-47s at me and fire.  :-]

  • --This is good, thanks Alegria!  I think work is one of the best mission fields in America, because by sharing a profession with someone you automatically have something in common and a bridge into their lives.  Being a good worker also builds credibility for the Gospel, if/when we get a chance to share it.  I've been in my current office for 8 years, and have only shared the Gospel itself a few times (I wish it were more).  But my teammates know I'm a Christian, so I pray that I might still honor God with my presence there, hopefully enough to make them start asking questions.

    As a side note, I agree with mrmah85's word of caution.  My department is primarily made up of engineers, so mostly guys, and I'm a girl.  I like to have friendly relationships with my co-workers, but I have to stop and think (daily) about keeping proper boundaries in relationships.  Most of my co-workers are also married, so that makes it even more important to keep those lines in the right places.  There have been some good Boundless discussions on this in the past; I couldn't find the blog post and comments, but the article is below.  I think the best advice I took away was:  don't treat one guy (or girl if you're a guy) better than all the rest, keep your interactions out in the open, and keep one-on-one conversations to a reasonable length.  I also try to imagine how I would want someone of my gender to interact with my future spouse in the workplace.

  • --after re-reading my post, I should probably clarify:  by "future spouse", I meant after we were married.  I think if two single people meet and work and both love the Lord, that's a totally different story and there's nothing wrong with pursuing that relationship :)

  • --AMahoney and MrMah: I will say that I have NEVER found the oft-quoted Timothy verse about treating men as brothers and women as sisters to be so useful as in the workplace. I, too, used to be REALLY awkward around men (as you often can be when you are constantly obsessing about appropriate boundaries). Mo Bettah, I have found is to treat older men like I would treat my father, and younger ones like I would treat a brother if I had one. Basically, I'm kind, friendly and respectful. And, when it comes to my day to day interactions with others, within reason, I treat everyone the *same.* That way, no one can feel like I'm paying them any kind of "special" attention. Once you start treating a subset of folks different from others (and having specific boundaries for them), you're setting yourself up for problems down the road -- especially if you aspire to management.

    That being said, I also have a firm line between "co-worker" and "friend." You have to be a pretty remarkable kind of person to crossover from one to the other. I go out to lunch with friends; I only go to business luncheons with coworkers. I also never go to lunch with a man alone (work friend or otherwise), unless I have told Mr.A(tof) that that's going down first and it is with someone we both know and trust. It's just how I roll, and I don't do it to "send the right message" to my coworkers, but becasue I love and respect my husband. However, as a single, I obviously didn't have that stipulation -- although I still would not go to lunch alone with guys that were married. :) That whole work husband/work wife dynamic is just too weird to me. :P I only have one husband, thanks. We're a team and we're not taking on new membership :P

    It's also worth noting that I *met* Mr.A(tof) in my place of work. If I had been throwing what my college friends called "the vibe" at him that I was aloof, unavailable, and keeping up mighty high boundaries, we probably never would have gone for coffee or for dinner or in for a life-time of awesomeness. ;) So I think your "work relationship" rules will change and evolve with you, but I would deffinitely encourage you to be friendly to your coworkers (all of them!). You never know who is struggling with something really difficult and just needs a smile and a caring word. You never know who needs some encouragement or some help getting along. :) Be the smile. Be the help. Be dependable. Not only will you get to flip your brownie pin, and be a good witness for Jesus in your workplace, but you will also be the type of worker who becomes well known for being an uplifting presence and a dependable employee. :)

  • --My workplace situation might be a little unusual.  I knew all of my coworkers before I started working with them!  We weren't exactly friends, but they had been my college professors when I was getting my undergrad degree.  Three of the female professors and I stayed in touch while I was in grad school in another city, and were on very friendly terms.  Once I started working alongside them, we easily formed stronger friendships in spite of the age differences (we range in age from 30 to mid-70s...and I'm the youngest by about 18 years.)  It would be hard to say that they are my "best friends" because we are all in such different places in life, but I do consider them to be very good friends.  We pray for each other, get excited for each other when something good happens, and cry with each other when one of us is going through a hard time...and we've all had our share of good and bad times.  These friendships definitely turn an already good job into a really GREAT job!    

    (For the record, I would NOT consider myself to be friends with the men I work with.  We are friendly in a professional way, but that's it!)

  • --Hi MrsAshleyTOF,

    I commend your workplace boundaries with married men, I think we're basically saying the same thing :)  I definitely agree that we should be friendly with all our co-workers; I was getting more at that boundary line between "friendly" and "flirtatious."  And like I said in my second post, it's a whole different ballgame when both parties are single.  I'm totally open to meeting a single Christian guy at work, should that ever happen.  I actually thought of you when I was typing that, remembering that you met your husband at work from a previous post.  I think that's great; where better to meet people than the place you spend most of your waking hours?

  • --AMahoney: I think so too. ;) I just know that I had a looot of awkward years where I was totally scared of interacting with any man in the workplace and had really bad boundaries in that regard. Thank goodness I got over that! ;D

  • --"Also be willing to take responsibility for things even if they are not really your fault.   There are too many people who try to throw each other under the bus these days - if there is a way you can take some responsiblity to lessen the burden on someone else it often is helpful."

    That is very true. Just making other peoples' lives a bit easier is always well-appreciated.

    I have a manager I really, really dislike. I'm not sure why. I'm very afraid of her. I get the feeling that she isn't a very nice person, even though she always uses a cute voice and says "nice" things, there are needles and barbs hidden in her words. I just find it crushing to be around her. I try to remember that non-Christians communicate differently and that she gives me a lot of pressure that means she herself is under a lot more pressure, but I dunno...for some reason when I'm talking with her I get so defensive and make excuses to protect myself, I feel under attack, maybe that's normal in the business world but I don't like myself being defensive...I'll just be glad when I finish my last day tomorrow :( Kind of failed in the friendly department on that one...

  • --Ria: Sweet merciful heaven, I used to work for your boss! Well, or someone just like her. I worked for that lady for about a year -- and I've had EXCELLENT bosses in the past, both male and female. But this gal. Oof. I remember the first time she took me into her office to tell me that she was "so disappointed" with how I handled a situation. ... Oh sweetie. In the nicest way, I don't really care that you're disappointed. I did the best I could with the information I had at the time, and if that's not good enough then you're just going to have to find someone else who does what I do as well as I do *and* makes your little heart glad. My performance here isn't to make sure you're pleased, it's to get the job done. This is business, not a social club. Unless I like you, and I don't like people who treat me like a 3 year old -- so, I'm going to continue to have love and respect for you as a human being because that's how I roll, but I don't have to like the way you treat me or the way you disrespect me -- because I'm a human being who has value, too!

    Honestly? The best thing you can do is to do excellent work and then communicate in the same way that she is communicating her disrespect for you that you are NOT to be disrespected. When she layers on the extra work, tell her that you are overwhelmed, and then continue to do excellent work. If she, frankly, gives you a task that you both know is beneath your paygrade, then tell her that No, thank you, you will not be filling out her personal expense report as you are inundated with other, more meaningful work. At one point, I believe I told her that I would appreciate more meaningful work as many of the tasks she gave me seemed more about keeping me occupied than accomplishing the mission (I believe the term "busywork" was employed here :P). "Oh well, NONE of the work we do is BUSYwork." "Ma'am, I have just done a full and thorough double-check of my co-worker's work, which you will also read and make corrections to. At that point, I will also have to go back and make additional corrections. Could you please review this first so that I may make all corrections simultaneously and will not modify anything that you would actually like to see included?" And there were ALWAYS corrections, even on the third, fourth, fifth and sixth draft. Sometimes she would issue corrections to un-correct things she had wanted corrected on the previous draft! Once I was instructed to retype a PDF into a word document because there were no Acrobat licenses left and they had lost the original document. I also was once instructed to take a microsoft publisher document my coworker had created, for a report he was writing and convert it into "a word document" because he "didn't know how." She would also have difficulty with her computer on the regular, and I would inevitably be the one to resolve. I was absolutely indespensable to her, but she still treated me like an incompetent lackey.

    >.> *ahem*. Needless to, my nerves and my patience both took a tremendous stamping in that office. :P

    But above all, know that this is NOT NORMAL. I now work for an AMAZING boss who values his employees, their input and his time. I love working here, for him, and with a team of people who respect and value each other. They make coming to work enjoyable and not a chore. :) So if there's opportunity to get out from under crazycakes, take it!

  • --While we're sharing stories about bosses, one of my indirect superiors has asked me in the last couple months how to turn her computer on, how to use a USB stick, about 30 different things related to Windows 8, what exactly it is that I do, where she can get a new mouse, to clean her mouse, and a couple more things that are slipping my mind right now.

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