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Cracking the Code on Adult Friendships at Work

Estimated reading time ~ 4 min
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Gone are the days of making friends in the school yard with a simple introduction of "want to be friends?" As many of us know all too well, making friends as an adult can prove to be nearly impossible. However, adult friendships are highly important and a fundamental part of our mental health and well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic, friendships positively impact not only your mental health but also your physical health. The clinic states that adults with strong social connections have a "reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure, and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI)."

But how do you make new friends as an adult? Many of us spend our days going to work and then heading home. That's what makes your workplace an invaluable space to initiate and cultivate friendships. However, it gets trickier when professionalism is in play; keeping colleagues at arm's length might seem less messy, especially when your career is at stake. Still, there are ways to create friendships with your colleagues in a healthy and safe manner. Here are some steps you can take to build workplace friendships.

Initiating Professional but Personal Conversations

Everyone emphasizes the significance of first impressions, but not everyone is clear on how to initiate a meaningful conversation when getting to know someone for the first time. We're all familiar with the classics like "Where are you from?" and "What's your favorite color?"—questions that, while common, don't necessarily help you truly understand a person. Ideally, it's best to ask questions that delve a little deeper while still keeping within the bounds of professional appropriateness. For instance:

  • What are some pet peeves of yours?
  • If you didn’t have this job, what else could you see yourself doing?
  • What are your top 3 favorite artists? (Musical artist? Dancers? Actors? Painters?)
  • What food/snack or beverage are you obsessed with right now?
  • What’s the last thing that made you laugh really hard?
  • Could you imagine yourself living anywhere else in the world? Why?

As a general tip, find something you have in common with somebody and go from there. As you take note of their interests, you start to learn whether or not you can mesh together, which you don’t have to figure out on the first encounter. If it's not your first conversation, ask follow up questions about the information exchanged in previous conversations to organically build upon your connection and reinforce your interest in those topics.

Following Through After Initial Meetings

Following up with someone and maintaining interactions inside and outside the office is an essential way to sustain a friendship or any connection. Just as you would send a thank-you email after an interview, you can also reach out after a meeting, expressing interest in meeting again. This could involve suggesting an offsite lunch or after-work drinks.

Once you've initiated those initial contacts, ideally, the other individual will start reciprocating. Following through can be as simple as responding to things they say in group chats or group settings. Offer genuine compliments for their work. If they share something amusing in a chat, sending a private message in response can be uplifting, for example. Don't hesitate to express that you appreciate their personality.

Join and Make Group Chats

In your workplace, various chats exist for different affiliations like teams, floors, or diversity groups, simplifying communication about social gatherings. Whether you're an introvert looking to stay in the loop or an extrovert planning events, these group chats facilitate connections.

Consider starting Slack channels based on personal interests, such as a book club or favorite TV show genre, offering an easy way to discuss shared passions and share lighthearted content. Whether sent to group chats or individual coworkers, this provides conversation starters for future interactions, reducing the anxiety of face-to-face conversations.

Attend Social Events Hosted Through Work

Workplaces typically organize various events for employees, ranging from casual chats and holiday celebrations to game nights and post-work happy hours. Attending these social gatherings is key to forging friendships and building connections. The individuals you'll encounter are likely to be enthusiastic and value connecting with others, creating positive experiences. Even if the events don't initially pique your interest, they provide an opportunity to meet new people and engage in discussions beyond work topics. Don't be hesitant to take the lead in initiating contact, especially if the other person reciprocates.

Balance Between Professionalism and Friendship

Balancing professional boundaries with the pursuit of friendship is crucial in the workplace. It's essential to consider factors like power dynamics and appropriateness of topics. For instance, establishing close friendships with your boss or supervisor might be perceived as inappropriate. A general guideline is to gauge the steps others are taking toward you, testing the waters, observing reactions, and adjusting your approach accordingly. This approach helps maintain a healthy balance in professional relationships.

Don’t Force It

While the focus is on adult friendships, there's no expectation to befriend everyone at work. These tips are for those you've identified for potential connections. If that's not the case, don't force a friendship solely for a livelier workplace. Find like-minded individuals outside of work at your gym, coffee shop, or through friends. Let connections evolve naturally, and be mindful of workplace boundaries, as not everyone may be open to friendships.

Making friends at work is like finding that sweet spot between being professional and just being real. It's not just about hanging out – friendships are good for your mental and physical health too.

Your workplace events and group chats are perfect for kicking off connections. But here's the deal: remember your professionalism and respect personal boundaries. Chatting about personal stuff, catching up after meetings, and hitting up social events can work wonders. The magic happens when you let things flow naturally. No need to force friendships; just connect with folks who get you, whether they're work buddies or pals from outside.

Bottom line? Making these connections is all about feeling good and building a friend group that really matters. So, go on, find your work pals, and make that workplace a spot you actually look forward to.

Jopwell helps America's leading companies connect with and recruit Black, Latinx, and Native American professionals and students at scale. Sign up to find your dream job.