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How To Make Friends And Build Great Relationships At Work

If you’re like most people, your work friendships have changed substantially over the last couple years. Many people report their relationships with colleagues have deteriorated or become more distant. And with the talent revolution, many people have seen their work friends leave the organization or move on to positions which make it tough to stay connected.

As a result, you want to make more friends and rebuild connections. Whether it’s virtual or face-to-face, friendship and belonging are fundamental human needs. They are also vitally important for fulfillment and satisfaction at work. According to classic research, having a best friend at work is one of the main reasons people stay with their current company. In addition, great relationships are one of the rewards of working—creating connections based on putting effort toward common goals. You can develop friendships anywhere, but work is a primary place you make and maintain friendships. There are three reasons for this:

  • One, you spend so much time at work, it’s natural you develop relationships because you spend time getting to know people and building proximity and familiarity.
  • Two, you tend to work with people who may have similar interests or styles. Research has shown people tend to choose a career based on personality characteristics, so it’s typical the people you work with have some similarities to you—which is strong fuel for friendship.
  • Three, work tends to drive meaningful interaction, providing a basis for friendship. At yoga class, you may just say hello or exchange superficial pleasantries, but when you’re in the trenches with others at work, it’s an opportunity to build a much deeper bond.

Building Great Work Relationships

According to research at Purdue University, relationships which have friendship at their core tend to be more satisfying and long-lasting. Great friendships are made up of emotional support, liking each other, caring for others, feeling trusting and secure and spending time together. Brilliant research by Lewandowski at Monmouth University finds there are key elements to great relationships—and these can translate to creating strong and rewarding bonds through work.

So how can you build great relationships with colleagues? These are the six things that matter most:

Be Your Best

Research published in the Journal of Personality found what people value in close relationships are others who are reliable, warm, kind, fair, trustworthy and intelligent. Separate studies in the European Journal of Personality found when people are agreeable and conscientiousness, the relationship tends to be more satisfying. So do your best to bring your best self to work. Of course, you won’t be perfect, but when others can count on you, when they feel you care, when you demonstrate competence and a penchant for equity and when you come through for them, these bode well (best) for strong relationships.

Accept Others

Recent research found co-workers can be critical, but more acceptance and less judgement is better for building strong relationships. Research published in the Family Relations journal found when people were more accepting, they tended to be more satisfied in relationships. Even though it can be natural jump to critique or come to less-than-flattering conclusions about others, do your best to accept your colleagues. Be forgiving of your co-worker who can’t seem to stay organized, and be tolerant of your eccentric teammate who can’t seem to express an idea without flowerly, effusive language. When you accept the flaws and foibles of those around you, you’ll have stronger and more satisfying relationships overall.

Be Trusting and Trustworthy

According to research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, relationships are a process of attaching to others. When you’re comfortable sharing feelings and feel you can rely on others, you reinforce your connections. As much as you can, be open and vulnerable with others about your thoughts, concerns and emotions. Share the challenges you’re having with a project or give voice to the concerns you have about the new product and how you think it could be improved.  

Likewise, in addition to being trusting, you need to be trustworthy, and this is correlated with strong relationships. This was demonstrated in separate research published in the same journal. Be someone others can count on to keep confidences and support them personally—but also to keep commitments and follow through on tasks. When others can rely on you both from a personal and a task standpoint, you’re more likely to build strong bonds which are long-lasting.

Trust is fundamentally about having the best interests of the other person and the relationship at heart, and demonstrating this over time through your choices and behaviors. Trust is reciprocal, so the more you trust others and demonstrate trustworthiness, the better the relationship tends to get.

Emphasize Commonalities

The old adage is true, “Birds of a feather, flock together.” You want diverse relationships and access to varied opinions so you can learn and build bridges with others, but interestingly, when you feel commonalities with others, you tend to be more satisfied in your relationships. Research published in Personality and Individual Differences journal found when people were similar in their traits, values and attitudes, they tended to be more satisfied in relationships. So even when there are differences between you and your co-workers, emphasize common goals. You may be great at getting things done and your colleague is the always-open-ended, blue-sky thinker, but you both care deeply about innovating the new solution for the customers. Or you may be politically conservative and your co-worker may be liberal, but you both care deeply about the future of work and the options your company will provide for hybrid work. Emphasize the places you agree and all you have in common, even if you have things about you which are different.

Language also matters. Called “linguistic determinism,” the ways we think and speak can shape perception. More research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds when people in relationships use more language which uses terms like “we” or “us,” they tend to feel closer, more satisfied and more committed. When you do the presentation on the work of your project team, emphasize the “we” in your efforts and give recognition and visibility to your teammates who have shaped and contributed to the work.

Grow Together

Another element of great relationships is when people support each other’s goals for growth and development. This is according to research published in the Oxford Handbook of Close Relationships. In the best relationships, you feel you can pursue your goals and expand your skills—and you also feel satisfied based on your relationship with others. Strong, growing relationships also tend to contribute to your own identity. Encourage your co-workers with their goals to learn a new skill or pursue a promotion, provide them with constructive feedback and consider signing up for a class together to build your capabilities together.   

Share Power

A fundamental human need, according to research is the reality and perception of fairness. In addition, plenty of studies have shown, if you believe tasks or responsibilities are unequally distributed, you’ll tend to feel frustrated or dissatisfied in a relationship. And research in the book, Power in Close Relationships, finds that sharing decision making and influence contributes to stronger, more satisfying relationships. Given this, share power at work by asking for input, giving people around you a voice and seeking others’ ideas in the decision-making process. Remind yourself you don’t have all the answers and demonstrate intellectual humility, and thus share power and influence.

In Sum

Friendships at work can be some of the greatest rewards we receive from our jobs. Pay, benefits and the opportunity to contribute to something meaningful are part of the value equation, but feeling connected, supported and important to others are among the most primary elements of happiness. It all counts, and you can take steps to build relationships or re-build relationships with colleagues, coworkers and teammates—and this will contribute to your own positive experience, but also to theirs.

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