The 5 people you need to make friends with at work
Because it’s what you know and who you know.
If you work at least 40 hours a week, you spend more time with your co-workers than your friends and family so it’s worthwhile to have good work relationships. In fact, a Globoforce survey found that people with work friends are nearly three times more likely to say they love their companies.
“You don't have to be best friends [with your co-workers], but being polite, respectful, engaging, and on the ball is critical to your ongoing success,” says Lori Scherwin, founder of the New York City–based career coaching firm Strategize That. “Your demeanor and relationships often count at least as much, if not more at times, than the work product itself. If people enjoy working with you, you are more likely to get additional opportunities.”
It can seem transactional or opportunistic to create a strategy for forging work friendships, but there are some people that should be at the top of your work friends wish list.
Get to know more about your boss than the fact that she always assigns time-sensitive projects at 5 p.m. that she needs on her desk by 9 a.m. the next day, or that she has very strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Your boss is, after all, a person.
So how do you become work friends with your boss without overstepping? Start by getting to know your boss’s professional goals and outlook. Scherwin recommends asking what she’s working on and showing interest in the business as a whole—not just your own role and career trajectory. She’ll appreciate that you're curious about the bigger picture, and you also might get some helpful intel about her priorities and business objectives. “If you can get along with and actually like your boss, you're more likely to enjoy work, thrive, and find additional opportunities,” says Scherwin.
When it comes time for reviews, raises, and promotions, your boss’s feedback matters the most because she's the person who works closest with you—so it’s crucial that she likes the work you do and working with you.
If you regularly interact with your boss’s boss, become friendly with him too. “You never know when your immediate manager might leave or be promoted, so keeping the person above them aware of the impact you're having will help when it comes to decisions being made if your boss were to leave,” says Paul Copcutt, founder of the Ontario-based executive-coaching firm PC Unlimited.
The power brokers
Instead of viewing peers as direct competitors, Scherwin says to focus on collaboration because that way you’ll do better work, faster. And try not to be jealous or extra-competitive with your peers who seem to be on the “fast track.”
“A natural inclination at work may be to feel threatened by someone with high talent who is already viewed as an up-and-comer. In fact, sometimes we project our own insecurities onto them and tag them with unfair judgments,” says Ephraim Schachter, founder of the New York City–based executive coaching firm CSuite Accelerator. “That ‘scarcity mentality’ won’t bring out your best. Be abundant instead and befriend the most talented, effective, high-performing colleagues in your midst.”
Sherwin recommends asking your co-workers how they are doing, learning more about their work, going to lunch instead of eating a sad desk salad and scrolling mindlessly through your Facebook newsfeed, and checking in to simply say hello. “Be helpful when you work together,” Sherwin says. “Be known for doing a good job. Don't complain. Be a good listener. Share insight to build trust.”
The office rock star
Find someone above you whom people really respect and, ideally, whose values are similar to your own. “Once you’ve worked anywhere for a short period, it’s easy to identify the internal stars whom others listen to and follow,” says Schachter.
Try his strategy for becoming friendly with office influencers. First, find someone “you’d like to learn from and emulate,” Schachter advises. Next, learn what the person is working on. Then at an upcoming company or department event, introduce yourself and ask her about the topic.
In the beginning, it’s best to keep your communications work-related. “Since [the project] is important to her, she will think you're someone who ‘gets it.’ You may just become an insider on her radar as new opportunities and projects open up,” Schachter says. “Having an opinion leader speak well of you is essentially a high-level testimonial. She's lending you her good name.”
You might already have a mentor outside of the office, like someone who's in your industry at another company, a favorite professor, or even a family member who has great advice. But it's also beneficial to have a mentor who works at the same company as you because they’ve been there and done that.
“Mentors can help with how you should be seeing the organization and how you should be thinking about the organization in order to get ahead,” says Halelly Azulay, CEO and founder of the California-based executive coaching firm TalentGrow. Your mentor could be your boss, an influencer, a peer, or someone who has the position you hope to have in a few years. Get to know them the same way you did with everyone else, but don’t make it weird and ask, “Will you be my mentor?” It doesn’t have to be a formal, Facebook-official relationship. It just has to be helpful.
As you start climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, you’ll get your very own team to manage. “The people who work for you will do a better job if they respect and like you,” says Scherwin. “When you're seen as helpful and focused on your teams' development, they'll want to do better work for you.”
Find out each person’s goals and help them achieve them, ask for their advice, say “thank you,” and give feedback regularly, says Scherwin. Little gestures like saying good morning or asking how their weekend was before you go into all of the to-dos for the week will also help. “These things may sound small, but they're most definitely not. People want to feel as if the people they're working for actually care about them,” she says.
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