Have you ever gotten too close to a coworker?
I know I have.
By ‘too close” I don’t mean sex, romance, or anything else that may have you calling HR, but more so mistaking a colleague for a friend and, consequently, saying or doing too much around them.
I fell into the trap more easily when I was younger and working more part-time retail jobs as a student, but, as I transitioned into my long-term career, it became more imperative than ever for me to draw a *clear* line between friends and colleagues.
Make no mistake: I’m not saying that we should be antisocial at work. Those 8+ hour days are more enjoyable when we have bonds in the office. We can also benefit from maintaining a good rapport with people in our respective industries (consider how actors benefit from having a good rapport with writers/directors/producers, and publicists with journalists, or media strategists with vendors, for example).
I’m also not saying that we can’t meet life-long friends on the job, but there’s a huge difference between “work friends” and friends you met through work. In other words, there’s being friends and then there’s being friendly–we only need to be the latter when it comes to work relationships.
Be polite and considerate.
Wish them a happy holiday or birthday.
Talk about music, shows, movies, or any other aspect of pop culture.
Laugh over how much your pet likes to tear your house apart.
Keep it lighthearted. It’s only when we start interacting more “heavily” with our colleagues (like discussing our dating life or family issues) that sh*t becomes confusing.
Your potential friendships backfire when you don’t set proper boundaries in professional relationships
You can enjoy the bond and camaraderie, but see this exactly for what it is: a friendly work relationship.
Yes there will be frequent work lunches, social gatherings, inside jokes, and fun moments with your colleagues, but the fact still remains that y’all are people brought together by circumstance. That’s it and that’s all.
Ask yourself: If you didn’t do what you do, or have the gifts and connections that you have, would there still be a relationship?
If the answer is no, then keep it [professionally] cute–you’re probably circumstantial “friends”, not true ones.
Avoid getting too personal with your colleagues because once you cross that line, you can’t undo it
If you’re someone who lacks boundaries then it’s easy to confuse a circumstantial relationship (like I mentioned above) with genuine friendship. But, here’s the thing:
Just because you consider someone a friend doesn’t make them act like one.
It’s so tempting to think you know someone better than you do when you spend a lot of time with them, but don’t be fooled. I urge you to move SLOWLY when getting closer to a colleague, even slower than you would pursue a friendship outside of work.
You may feel like you’ve forged an instant bond with them, but it may not be real. Though everyone can be nice and fun, not everyone has the character for true friendship. If you’re not careful, then that person’s character will become your crisis.
And the worst part of all: you can’t revert back to considering them as only a “colleague” just because they disappointed you after you crossed the line (I mean you could, literally speaking, but the damage is already done and the relationship is tainted).
Unlike non-work friends, these relationships intertwine with your professional life/reputation. With this comes unnecessary tension and miscommunication, making the consequences of a fall-out become much higher. It’s extremely difficult to go back to strictly business once you make the bond personal.
That’s not your sis.
That’s not your bro.
They are not a part of your inner circle.
If they gossip to you then they’ll likely gossip about you.
Again, keep it light & stop including these folks in your personal life.
Don’t spend too much time together outside of office hours, as it will blur the lines
Speaking of personal life, take notice of how much time you spend with colleagues outside of work.
Attending the occasional happy hour or karaoke night with your coworkers or major events like weddings is perfectly fine, but don’t overdo it. If you blur the line between personal and professional outings by seeing your colleagues too much then it will skew the working relationship.
Let me make it plain:
- Don’t do “Sunday Fundays” with them
- Don’t call them to get drinks so you can vent
- Don’t invite them to your family’s house (even your own place might be pushing it)
- Don’t get them too acquainted with your friends
- And PLEASE don’t travel with them (unless it’s work trip)
Anyway, I think you get the point.
If you take nothing else from this, please understand: building personal relationships with your colleagues is a very slippery slope. Though it’s natural to find people at work that you clique with more effortlessly than others, please tread carefully for everyone’s sake.
Do you agree that your work colleagues are not your friends? Share why or why not in the comments, or the 20 Something Saga Twitter or Instagram!