Colleague or Friend? Is it possible to have both at work?

Early in my career, a professor said to me "you don't have friends at work if you want to look after your own interests." At the time I thought, "what a selfish and jaded point of view." People spend more time at work than with their friends and family. How can you not make at least one friend? As I've progressed through my career and worked with clients to navigate troubled seas at work I've revisited this notion multiple times.

Colleagues can have a negative influence on your career:

  • They may take credit for your work.
  • They can withhold essential information impacting your work.
  • They may spread rumours about you that impact your performance and credibility.

Colleagues can also have a positive impact on your career:

  • They can support your ideas in a meeting.
  • They may introduce you to a manager for a job you applied to. 
  • They can keep you informed about upcoming organizational news.

A few tricky, yet common, work situations to consider:

  • How would you manage a relationship with a colleague who is being considered for the same promotion?
  • How would you feel if your colleague got the project you have been eyeing?
  • What can you do if your colleague makes a negative comment about you to your boss?

There are so many factors that will impact how we deal with these difficult situations. Consider your:

  • Values
  • Culture 
  • Context
  • Personality 
  • Experiences
  • Level of self-awareness
  • Observations of the other individual
  • Workplace landscape and political climate

Another benchmark that helps some people determine if colleague are friends is if one socializes with them outside of work. I'm not talking about drinks after work. I'm talking about a night at the movies or a weekend at the cottage.

Some tips to avoid disappointment with your colleagues at work:

  • Be self-aware. Know yourself. How do you react to different workplace situations? How do you influence others and how do others' influence you? 
  • Set boundaries. As you are building relationships with your colleagues, know where you stand on different issues and stay true to your values.  
  • Observe. Take your time and wisely choose your friends at work. Slowly build these relationships. 

I have been fortunate to have had made a few good friends at work and we still keep in touch. These relationships are tricky to navigate but they are worth it when you find those gems.

ACTION: Evaluate your workplace relationships. What can you do to better manage them so that you can differentiate between a colleague and a friend? Who can you turn to in a time of crisis?