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When colleagues become friends

Jaclynn Knecht, editorial contributor, Career Contessa | April 17, 2015


Before you get too friendly, consider our tips below on navigating the initial evolution of a relationship from "colleague" to "friend:"

For many seasons, on the hit ABC drama "Grey's Anatomy," Drs. Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang referred to each other as their "person." Meaning that each one could go to the other, about anything, and have a completely understanding ear.

Maybe you can relate. Does your significant other refer to one of your co-workers as your "work husband" or "work wife?" Do you have that one person at work that you can talk to about anything and everything?

So, how did Meredith and Cristina become each other's go-to-gal? After all, their relationship didn't start out that way. They started out as interns, rookie colleagues, in an extremely competitive teaching program at the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital. And, how do you find a work friend of your own?

If you are new to a position or company, or working with a new group of people, you may want to keep your relationships with colleagues on a superficial level for a bit. Not because you are trying to avoid making friends at work, but more because you are treading lightly to separate those that just want to obtain information from you, from the people that would actually like to connect with you on a friendly level.

Before you get too friendly, consider our tips below on navigating the initial evolution of a relationship from "colleague" to "friend:"

Proceed with caution: Unfortunately, not everyone wants to be friends with their co-workers, especially in super-competitive work environments. There are people who will use even the slightest tidbit of information to get ahead, so before you begin to share important or personal details with someone, make sure you trust them implicitly.

Avoid social media relationships: Similarly, social media is not an aspect of your life that you should share with everyone. While in the beginning stages of any work relationship or collaboration, you may not want to give a persona access to your Facebook or Twitter pages. You can connect with colleagues on LinkedIn, however, since the site was built for professional affiliations. But I would hold off on giving colleagues access to any site that may house personal or social information.

Keep happy hour happy: After-work socializing builds relationships, especially if you are a member of a team or group that spends a lot of company time together. It's OK to socialize, have a couple of drinks and relax. But, you should definitely know your limit. You want your department or team to talk about how much you are killing it at work, not about how drunk you were at the bar the night before.

Forging friendships
Once you've become comfortable at the office and you're looking to forge relationships that go deeper than status meetings and CCed emails, we can help.

Once you've established a friendly relationship with a co-worker, and have decided they are someone that you would like to welcome fully into your life, go for it. Friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and have conversations about your lives.

Some of my closest friends invite their close work friends to their parties and events, and a few have even been in their weddings. The trick? Making sure that you are both on the same page, have the same expectations, and are not being used to gain the upper hand or any kind of advantage.

Now, that being said, there is also a flip side: what happens if a close friendship with a colleague disintegrates, and you still have to face them at work every day? Try to be the bigger person, and take the high road. The falling out of a friendship – especially one in a work environment – can be painful and awkward. There is no easy way to navigate it. Just remember to always do your job.

If, after the souring of a personal, friendly relationship, you are able to complete your tasks, fulfill your duties and continuously interact with a colleague that you no longer consider a friend, the fortitude of your character will shine.

It took Meredith and Cristina five seasons to become comfortable enough to call each other their "person." It's not going to happen overnight. You'll need to work for it, and on it, throughout the relationship, as you would with any other friend.

So, my advice to is to be cautious and selective about those you choose to become friends with at work, but at the same time, try not to cut yourself off from the valuable relationships you might form with your co-workers.

You'll be glad you did.

A version of this article was originally published on Career Contessa, an online platform facilitating honest conversations by real women about work and life—to help you achieve fulfillment and balance in both.

Advice on dealing with your co-workers: