Recently, a reader asked me about tips on how to befriend coworkers. First of all, thank you so much for the question! I welcome questions and comments – I really want to write what you guys are interested in. I’m always looking for debate (I know my opinions aren’t the only ones out there, and I’m always eager to hear the flip side that I haven’t thought about). So bring it on!
I wanted to delve into the topic of making work friends since I do remember initially finding this to be as nerve-wracking as finding a date to prom. Do you take it slow, or rip off the band aid?
Given that opening up to complete strangers isn’t something that you can undo, my first piece of advice is to keep personal stuff to yourself until you know people well. This is advice I take to all my relationships, whether it’s dating or making new friends, so I don’t think you can go wrong here. At the same time, I think it’s important to be yourself. Don’t try to be more or less outgoing or friendly than you are. Nothing smells worse than being a fraud – read: superficially friendly if you’re a little slower to warm up to others, or toning down your unique personality. Obviously, stay work appropriate, but be yourself. That’s always the first step to making friends.
Next, just make sure you give everyone a fair chance. Don’t expect everyone you meet to become a friend, but don’t ignore people because they’re not your age or talk about things you don’t get. Some of the best work friends I’ve made were significantly older than me and in very different places in their lives. Some had kids my age, some were a good five, ten years older than me and just starting families. Of course, some were my age and single. What I’m saying is that don’t discount who has a different background from you- they might become your best champion, be a fun lunch buddy, or source for information on what’s going on in your city! I have found that people my age who are in relationships are often the toughest people to befriend – they’re often not looking for new friends because they are focusing on new relationships and settling down. But some people are great at balancing and are looking for new friends. Just remember to give everyone a chance and keep at it!
Just do it! Quit waiting around. My biggest piece of advice is to make the first move. Ask a potential new friend out to lunch. See if they’d like to go to a movie you’re dying to see. Invite them to that game night you’re hosting. As an introvert, and formerly shy person, this was tough for me.
So how do we get from not having talked to someone at all, to asking them to do something outside of work? My best tip is to ask a lot of questions when getting to know your coworkers. If you run into each other at the water cooler, ask them how their weekend was, did they catch that tv show you love? If that’s too much too fast for you, you can always feel them out by commenting on the weather… but try not to get caught in that pattern. Find out what they do in their spare time. What are their interests? Once you get there, genuinely suggest doing something you have in common or were dying to do together.
Can I Get Your Number? For me, I find it easier to ask to exchange cell phones and then text a new friend once in a while (whether at work when something funny happens and you can’t talk about it out loud, or over the weekend when I find out something we both enjoy is happening). That usually helps a friendship progress naturally, even if you don’t see the person all the time.
But how do I ask for a possible friend’s number, Mirabelle? The key here is not to make a huge deal about it – you’re not asking them to marry you, you just want to stay in touch. Don’t ask “Can I get your number?” That reminds us all of the awkward dating world. I prefer just saying something natural like, “Let’s exchange numbers.” That way you’re putting yours out there first.
To get over the fear of just asking… Think about it, would you prefer to be friends with someone who seems genuinely interested in you and remembers things you say, or someone who is nice, but unclear about wanting to get to know you and who never actually acts on “we should do something together” ? Just make it happen, you! No more skirting around it.
Be open and start a conversation! I like to think about the people who are naturally good at befriending everyone, and try to mimic them. Do they smile a lot? Do they engage with everyone, even the random woman in the elevator, or guy who waters the plants every week? Do they follow
up and ask me to join them, or tell me about things they think I might enjoy? To get over my nerves in starting conversations, I started practicing by complimenting people in the elevator or on the bus. Not in a creepy way, but if I was already admiring a girl’s cute shoes, or a person’s briefcase, why not just say it out loud? Or just saying “Good morning” when walking by someone instead of staring at my shoes. What’s there to lose?, I probably wouldn’t see them again if I tanked. First of all, this helped me feel a lot more normal about engaging with people I didn’t know, put a smile on my face, and made these interactions a matter of habit so that after a while I didn’t even think about approaching people. And second, it boosted my confidence and opened doors to new acquaintances. You never know who you’ll run into after work!
Be the person other people come to – whether it’s to chat or get advice. Be likable and approachable, and doors will open, people will flock! I smile at everyone and try not to engage in gossip or negativity. People will assume you gossip about them too, if you put down others… so just don’t do it! Share the juicy stuff with friends who don’t know the people if you really need to vent. Don’t forget to be an active listener. Ask lots of questions, offer compassion and remember to bring up details later on.
Always say yes and follow up. If a potential friend invites you to do something, say yes! Sure you might not know if it’s going to be fun for sure, but meeting up outside of work is the best way to get to truly know someone. I try to say yes every time, even for last minute things because I can usually shuffle things around, and it’s always worth it. I give myself a very tough standard for saying no, to avoid just pulling a cop out. (Note: I used to say no automatically when I was startled, so I had to teach myself some new habits). People hate rejection – if you keep saying no to invites, even if you have a valid excuse, they will stop asking you. It’s just human nature. So be the one to invite them if you can’t make someone else’s suggestion. That way people remember of you as being the person who’s up for new things, and will come to you first. And when you say, “We should do this” to someone, follow up with concrete plans to actually do it. Don’t suggest things you don’t mean.
Share! It really stood out to me when someone thought I would like something, and brought me some to try the next day. She was instantly in, and that got me to share my stash of chocolates
with her immediately. Something about good deeds by others makes you want to step it up too. So be the one to start sharing snacks or bringing in cupcakes on Fridays. People will have yet another reason to chat with you, and you’re guaranteed a smile on your face. You don’t have to just share things, like baked goods or snacks, although food is a great place to start… but you can tell people about festivals they might like, or concerts you heard are coming to town.
Grab lunch together. Don’t forget to do things when you’re at work – those are hours you do have in common, so make use of your time there. Being a bit more relaxed at lunch helps you loosen up. If people already have lunch groups, ask if you can join. If you go a couple times and realize you don’t feel like that group is the right fit for you, change things up! You can always invite people who aren’t “in” with that group either, or join a person you notice sitting by themselves all the time.
In the end, I think that making friends takes a lot of courage, a little bit of luck, and a tadly bit of friendly stalking.
And ultimately know that some people simply aren’t looking to make friends. That won’t change whether or not you are charming, witty and awesome, which you are, obviously! Don’t take yourself or the task of making friends too seriously.
Funny story: my best friend from law school was someone who intimidated me a lot- she was cool, confident and did not seem at all interested in befriending me or people around us. She seemed like she was all set, thank you. We were locker mates (yes, law school is just like high school – you get lockers for all those damn heavy textbooks). Apart from this, we had no reason to interact. We were in different class sections and never really ran into each other. But then, I kept seeing her
sitting at a table near me in the library at 7am … every morning. Nobody else willingly studies at 7am, but we both did. I knew right then and there that we were destined to be friends. I took things slow (haha, this sounds like dating advice). I just started out by saying good morning every day. She still seemed completely disinterested, but I refused to give up on fate. Then I started making small talk, like about her section, or about where she commuted from, or loving being up in the morning (yea, that’s what the cool kids talk about!) We chatted some more. She was polite, but I still wondered if she only talked out of pity for a doofy redhead. But I still kept at it because I had a feeling she was a friend I really wanted. Then one day I asked to join her at her table. After a while, it was just normal to study together, and catch up about each other’s weekends. And it turned out that we had a lot more in common than we thought. Even though my street smart friend thought my good-alecky ways were hilarious, we both shared a lot in common (I’m sure my friend was more surprised than anyone about that!). And so, a genuine friendship brewed. And of course, I had to summon the courage to exchange numbers, but by that point it wasn’t weird, and we were fast friends. And honestly, it was all worth it! I am super lucky to have a good friend who isn’t the same as any of my other friends. We’re an unlikely pairing, but we’ve stuck together through thick and thin. We’ve shared our different strengths with each other, and I know that we opened each others’ eyes on a lot. While this isn’t technically a work situation, we both treated law school like a full time job (studying from 7 to 7 every day)… And we broke out from the library setting to a social one… so I think the parallel stands.
So remember if I can do it, so can you! Now get out there and make some new friends!
Anybody else have some great tips for making friends at work? Does anyone like keeping work and personal life separate? (I know there are some people who truly do not like to mix those at all).
Please comment, share your thoughts and let me know what you think. Please help me keep this a positive forum, though. I am so excited for some debate, but let’s respect each other please. I reserve the right to monitor and delete inappropriate posts. Thanks in advance!