by Grace Judson
Having a good—or even best—friend at work is a significant indicator of happiness on the job, according to the global performance-management firm Gallup. However, it can also be a challenge.
In an interview I recently gave on the podcast “How Can I Say This,” we talked about a question submitted by a listener who was having trouble with a client who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
The listener—whose question was answered on an earlier episode of the podcast—felt like she was being backed into a corner by the client, who was asking for his work to be done ahead of other clients whose projects were already in progress.
Her question was answered, and answered well, on that previous episode, and she had written in with thanks plus some additional information. It turns out that the dividing line between friendship and professionalism with this client had become severely blurred. On the podcast we talked about how to keep that from happening.
So, we have friends at work (yay!) and we want to keep and nurture those friendships. But we also have work to do and a career to nurture, and those goals of friendship versus career can be hard to keep in balance.
Sometimes a friend needs support. Something hard has happened and they need to talk about it—perhaps ask for advice or maybe just vent to a sympathetic listener. Or something great has happened and they want someone to jump up and down and celebrate with them.
Of course that’s okay.
The challenge arises when the need for support starts to eat into what should be a professional atmosphere in the workplace. Maybe the friend is constantly at your desk trying to talk with you about non-work topics or persistently texting you about a personal problem. Whatever it is, it’s interfering with your ability to get done what you need to get done. So what can you do?
As I said on the podcast, it’s best to keep this from happening before it even starts. As the workplace friendship develops, be intentional about your time and be clear about those intentions. When you’re at work, keep the conversations primarily work-related. When you’re not at work, avoid too much work talk—and especially avoid too much work complaint talk.
A little social interaction keeps workplace relationships running smoothly. “How was your weekend?” is always an appropriate question. But “OMG, my weekend was awful, you won’t believe what happened, but let me tell you all about it!” isn’t an appropriate answer. If your friend lays this sort of response on you, it’s your responsibility to channel things in a different direction.
Try saying, “Hey, wow, I’m sorry it was so bad! Why don’t we go out for a drink tonight and you can tell me all about it then?”. It acknowledges that you care and sets the tone for an appropriate time for your friend to tell the story and for you to provide support.
If you haven’t done this in the past, instead taking the time during the workday to listen to your friend’s problems, it may be hard to establish these guidelines; hard, but really necessary. I know you know why: you don’t want a reputation for participating in drama or socializing while work piles up on your desk. Whether or not your friend’s predicament is truly serious or is a case of over-reaction and drama, the perception of those around you is what matters—and it will, whether justly or unjustly, be likely to lean toward the drama end of the scale.
If your friend is in real trouble—a close family member has passed away, their marriage is breaking up, a child has been arrested—serious trouble—then of course it’s appropriate to offer support. But even then, that support might be best expressed as, “Look, you need to take some time off. Why don’t you take a sick day and I’ll come by after work and we can talk.”
Depending on your level of friendship, you could even take some personal time yourself to be with your friend.
It’s personally rewarding—and for women especially, as Gallup’s research shows, it can also be professionally rewarding—to have close friends at work. Especially if you make sure, for the sake of each of your careers and professional advancement, to keep the deeper personal interactions outside of the office.
If you find this subject matter compelling, consider adding to your CAP credentials with the Organizational Management (OM) specialty certificate. For more information about getting the OM, please visit our website.
Grace Judson is leadership coach who works with recently-promoted managers to help them discover their personal leadership style, build confidence in their leadership skill, and develop their careers. She can be reached on her website, www.gracejudson.com, where you can take her brief leadership communication quiz and learn just how good you are at communicating effectively.
This is the 11th in this series of Better Conversations articles. Next month’s article, the 12th, will be the last. AND you can continue learning from Grace by visiting her website and signing up to receive her weekly newsletter of practical leadership and communication tips and action items.