Many of us have friends at work, while others seem to struggle to make friends in a workplace environment. Why is that?

The 2022 Global Emotions report from Gallup shared that 20% of employees report having no friends they can call on, especially in a time of need. They went on to share many adults go at least two weeks without talking to a single friend or family member! These heartbreaking statistics from Gallup are reflected in my own research.

The concept of friendship is hardly new. Aristotle described three kinds of friends that meet different purposes.

  1. Friendships based on utility: people connect and maintain their relationships based on mutual benefits.
  2. Friendships based on pleasure: The relationship is based on mutual enjoyment and emotional rapport.
  3. Friendships based on good: People connect and support one another based on shared goals and values. Elements of both utility and pleasure are combined in this third type of friendship.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been conducting research about making friends at work for my new book You, Me, We. Why we all need a friend at work (and how to show up as one!). When you think about friendship and the lessons you’ve learned about making them and keeping them, what comes to mind?

The Golden Rule of Friendship

According to my research and the interviews, I’ve conducted with leaders around the world for You, Me, We many of us make friends by using a version of the golden rule – treat others as you would wish to be treated.

We assume that a reciprocal approach with time spent working together is all we need to forge successful friendships at work. And to some extent, this is true. Except we don’t always have the luxury of time, to wait 6 months, a year, or more to get to a high trust relationship. (You may be surprised at how many leaders tell me it takes 2 years or more to gain their trust!).

We need to be able to collaborate now; To be able to have the tough conversations and disagree today – in a way that doesn’t damage the relationship and sabotage our results tomorrow.

Friends at Work

Gallup famously asks “Do you have a best friend at work?” as part of their Q12 engagement survey. I’m challenging that question and instead asking “Are you a friend at work?” In order to have a friend, we need to be a friend; and that takes personal leadership.

We have to choose to go first and invest in cultivating our professional relationships (friendships) at work, every day, one conversation at a time. This is a vital skill and is common sense. It sounds easy but requires practice. If we aren’t prioritizing the health of our friendships at work, then chances are we aren’t practising our relationship skills enough. I work with leaders every day as part of my coaching practice who are having to play catch up and repair damaged relationships. They need to spend more thoughtful time investing in their professional relationships.

Have you noticed how people gravitate toward individuals who make them happy and tend to avoid people who bring them discomfort? I’m sure there are people in your work life that make you groan when you see their number appear on your phone, or their email in your inbox because you know it’s going to be bad news. It’s going to be hard work. And other colleagues who bring a smile to your face every time you have the chance to connect.

Are You a Friend at Work?

The question is are you the go-to colleague or the go-from colleague for those who work with and around you? I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that you are the former.

More than 67% of the leaders who have completed our Ally Mindset Profile report that their success has been undermined by the words or actions of a colleague. This means that it is very likely that intentionally or unintentionally you are undermining the success of others. In doing so you’re potentially creating the reputation of a go-from colleague.

We know that we’re acting with positive intent, to set others up for success and add value. It’s our impact and how we show up that often trips us up. How others [mis]perceive what we are trying to achieve.

What often gets in the way is that we aren’t paying attention to how others are reacting and responding to us. We aren’t fully present. We assume all is well until it isn’t.

Being a friend at work

At our core, we see ourselves as effective leaders and communicators, friendly and supporting others. However, this is a me-first approach. To be true allies we need to pay attention to the other person, and their needs and circumstances.

In our busy work days, we tend to focus on what we want and need. However, we aren’t paying enough attention to what others want.

Ironically, other people will be eager to fulfil your wants and needs if they know, like, and trust you. And the quickest way to build a high trust relationship is to role model the five practices of an ally mindset.

What do you think? Have you had different experiences making friends at work? I’d love to hear from you. You can learn more about my research and why we all need a friend at work at and connect with me on LinkedIn.

  • About the Author
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Morag Barrett helps leaders achieve outstanding results through the power of their professional relationships. She is an in-demand keynote speaker, executive coach, leadership expert, and bestselling author of three books: Cultivate: The Power of  Winning Relationships, The Future-Proof Workplace, and You, Me, We: Why we all need a friend at work (and how to show up as one!)

Morag excels at helping leaders and organizations see the gaps in their development and discover new ways to move past them. A pragmatic ideator, she finds unique solutions to problems (usually through the power of connection). Her greatest joy lies in giving leaders the tools, encouragement, and resources they need to become the best authentic versions of themselves they can be. 

She also…

  • Has helped more than 15,000 leaders from 20 countries on 4 continents improve the effectiveness of their leaders and teams.
  • Is the proud mother of three 6ft tall sons who can thoroughly beat her in basketball, but don’t stand a chance in Scrabble.
  • Has been featured by, Forbes, and The American Management Association among others.
  • Spent three weeks at sea with a group of Estonian sailors.
  • Prefers gin to scotch, despite having a Scottish name (it means “great” …and she is!).
  • Is a member of the 100 Coaches organization formed by Marshall Goldsmith.
  • Has more than 50 unicorn themed items at home (none of which she has bought for herself!)