I've talked to a few friends recently who either don't feel like they have friends at the office or don't want to get a new job because they don't want to struggle at building relationships. It made me think about how difficult it can be to have colleagues become friends, but it's critical to feeling a sense of belonging at work. Otherwise, who can we bounce ideas off of, vent to when we're having a hard day, or share successes with?
I have a colleague who refuses to share anything personal about herself at work. She keeps a wall up and to others it comes across as rude and unfriendly. And guess what? She feels like others don't understand her and that no one supports the work she does. Guess how often she's willing to go above and beyond for people?
We don't have to make work colleagues our best friends (though at one job I had that and it did wonders for my engagement), but creating relationships and building a sense of belonging is critical to engagement. It's also a crucial skill for leaders (I call this interpersonal savvy), because employees need to see their boss as "real" and not just a work robot.
If you're struggling to build relationships at work, try one of these tips:
Ask someone out to lunch. It seems simple, but introverts rarely do this. Getting off campus to learn about someone you work with creates friendly, casual conversation. If it feels out of your comfort zone, start with someone on your team (And if you've got direct reports, then please, please start with them. Going to lunch with other colleagues and never going to lunch with direct reports sends a bad message). Then, ask someone from another department, telling them that you're trying to learn more about the business.
Start doing informal drive-by conversations. When I am trying to establish a relationship with a colleague, I will pop over to their desk to say good morning or ask how they're doing. It doesn't have to be a long conversation, but I'm betting that the more you do this, the longer the conversations will become, because you'll discover more and more things to talk about.
Ask questions. I'm guilty of only focusing on myself in a conversation - what I've got going on, what's not working well, what I'm doing this weekend. Flip the script and stop talking! Ask open-ended questions (people love to talk about themselves). You'll learn more about the person and they'll think you're a great conversationalist because they got to share about their life.
Ask for feedback or ideas. I've made some pretty good work friends by simply asking for feedback on a project I'm working on or getting their thoughts on a leadership topic. Using someone else's feedback builds trust and creates a support system. If you've found someone who willingly gives you feedback about your work (bonus points if they're not on your team or if you get that feedback over lunch or coffee) then you've found a friend. Trust me.
Smile. Results-focused people rarely smile around the office. They're too focused on what's next on their task list or what went wrong in the afternoon project meeting. Looking people in the eye and smiling invites them to talk to you. My colleague who refuses to share about her personal life also rarely smiles at coworkers or makes small talk in the break room. If you have direct reports, how often are you smiling at them and inviting small talk?
When I started working in HR I rarely did any of these things. They were learned behaviors that a mentor had to teach me and that I had to watch others doing. Now that I incorporate each of these into how I work, I have better relationships, and it makes my job easier. Try it.