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The Dos & Don’ts of Befriending Your Coworkers

If you have an internship this summer, you may be struggling to get the hang of the working life. Being in an office from 9 to 5 can be really tough, especially since it gives you less time to see your friends. Or maybe you’ve moved to a new city for your internship and your friends aren’t even nearby. This transition can be tough, so it’s no surprise you’d want to seek out friends in your new office.

But when you’re navigating an office culture, you need to be careful about crossing lines. Maybe your coworkers are totally cool and invite you out after work – awesome! But can you really be yourself around these people? Can you get to know one another on a personal level without messing with your work relationships? We’ve pulled together the dos and don’ts of socializing with your coworkers.

DON’T avoid it

It can be scary getting to know people in a professional setting. While you don’t need to be besties with your colleagues, you shouldn’t avoid office relationships completely, either.

The number one thing to remember about your relationships with people at work is that it’s all networking. Marta Steele, partner at human resources consulting firm People Results, says, “Our career success very much depends on the relationships we develop. The people we work with and work for become a part of our network, our community.”

Every person you work with is a member of your network. Establishing, at the very least, a friendly office relationship with each of them can only help your career in the long run. Turning those relationships into true friendships can benefit you, too, if you play your cards right.

“My closest, most important professional relationships typically have an ‘outside of work’ component,” Steele says. “I consider them more than just colleagues. They are friends.” Turning your professional connections into friends can significantly strengthen your professional network.

DO be inclusive

Since every relationship you make at work is a form of networking, you need to be sure not to damage any professional relationships. When establishing out-of-the-office relationships, you need to be inclusive of everyone. You’re going to have a hard time working with someone now or in the future if he or she feels excluded or thinks you don’t like him or her.

If you want to hang out with non-superiors just to become friends, you should probably be inviting the whole group. For example, don’t hang out exclusively with one or two other interns; invite the whole intern team out with you. Otherwise, you could end up with quite a few enemies.

The exception to this rule is meeting with your boss. It’s fine to meet for one-on-ones with your superiors as long as they’re work-related. In those relationships, it’s important for your superiors to get to know you on a more personal level, but only so they can become mentors and provide recommendations for you in the future. Going out for drinks and talking about your boy problems with your boss probably isn’t the best idea; keep it to coffee or in-office meetings during the workday to talk about your performance and your goals.

DON’T force it

You may want to be friends with your colleagues, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be friends with you. Some people prefer to keep their work lives and personal lives completely separate and aren’t as keen on befriending their coworkers. When trying to build these relationships, it’s important to remember this. You don’t want your efforts to become friends to ruin your professional connections; that needs to remain the priority.

When approaching your coworkers about hanging out, try not to corner them in front of the whole office where they can’t say no. Send them an email inviting them to lunch or an after-work drink. But pay close attention to how they receive the invitation. If you do ask them in person and they avoid eye contact or don’t really give you an answer, they probably aren’t interested. If you ask twice and they always seem to have plans, you should back off. You’ve made it clear that you want to be friends; if your coworkers reciprocate, they will seek you out. Otherwise, they would probably prefer to keep their professional relationships just that.

“If hanging [out] outside the office doesn’t come naturally, don’t force it,” Steele says. You don’t want to be that unfortunate intern who is always asking everyone to hang out—and getting nothing in response. Keep it casual and don’t be overeager.

DO keep it classy

You may feel like a true adult when you head to your after-work happy hours, but part of being an adult is keeping it classy. Steele warns that drinking with coworkers is one area where you need to be especially careful. “Grabbing a glass of wine at happy hour is very different than a sloppy, drunken night of gossiping about coworkers behind their backs,” she says.

So when you head out for your summer sangria at 5 p.m., keep it to one or two. Drinking may make you feel like your colleagues are your closest friends whom you can share all your thoughts and feelings with. But trust us, none of your coworkers will want to be your friend if they have to bring you home after a few too many cocktails.

Keeping it classy extends beyond happy hours, too. When you go out for lunch with your fellow interns, remember that they don’t know you that well. You can’t just pick fries off a coworker’s plate like you do with your best friend; you need to be on your best behavior. Be polite; always say please and thank you, and avoid awkward conversation topics like religion and politics. Don’t talk about your other coworkers when they’re not around; even just a little workplace gossip can blow up and make you look bad in front of your coworkers, or, even worse, your boss.

DON’T be too friendly online

Before connecting with your work buddies online, filter through your previous posts and photos first. You wouldn’t want your professional reputation to be tainted by those questionable formal photos, would you? Try an app like Social Sweepster to make cleaning up your social media profiles easier and avoid uncomfortable conversations about your personal life at work.

But before you reach out to your coworkers online, think about the consequences. Connecting with them online now means being super careful with the content you share forever. The only alternative is unfriending people down the road, which can be really awkward if they notice. Do you really want to make that commitment? If you’re not positive you can maintain a work-friendly profile, you should probably keep your online presence to yourself.

If you do decide to send requests to your coworkers on Facebook, you might want to change your privacy settings. If you can’t trust your friends with what they tag you in, set up tag approvals so you have a say in what becomes public on your profile.

Twitter is one social platform (besides the obvious, LinkedIn) that can be excellent for your career if you use it right. It’s definitely a great way to stay connected with coworkers. When it comes to the content you’re putting out, be “intentional about what you share,” Steele says. Tweet about industry-relevant news, not how hungover you are from last night. Use it as a tool to demonstrate your professionalism and interest in your job.

DO find a mentor

Getting close to your boss or managers is an excellent way to provide yourself with recommendations for the future. If they see you’re putting in an effort to get to know them, they may like you better.

However, keep your questions reasonable to avoid being nosy. You don’t need to know every detail of their personal lives. If your boss doesn’t seem to want to answer your questions, then you should cool it and keep your conversations professional. Seeking mentorship from a higher-level employee is flattering to him or her and a great resource for you, but not everyone will want to be your mentor.

“Ask a boss to go to lunch to learn about their hobbies, interest, family [and] career. Find what you have in common,” Steele says. Show your boss that you want to get to know him or her. But keep these relationships more professional than you would with your fellow interns; your boss is still your superior, even if you feel like long-lost BFFs.

Focus your relationship on learning professionally from your boss. Talk to him or her about your goals for your career and what you plan to do to get yourself where you want to be. Ask for advice on the kinds of jobs and internships you should have to end up where he or she is, if you would be interested in his or her job someday. If you develop this relationship well, you can have it as a resource throughout your career!

There are infinite possibilities, both professional and personal, that can come from being friends with your coworkers. Just remember these dos and don’ts and you’ll be able to navigate your work relationships like the pro you are!

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Christina Madsen

Columbia Barnard

Christina is a recent graduate of Barnard College in New York. She currently works at FindSpark, a community for young creatives. She also writes for the FindSpark blog and Makeoverly. Previously, she has interned with fashion/tech startup Hukkster and Ali Fee PR. She has an online shopping addiction and spends all her free time reading about fashion and pop culture. Follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn, and check out her website.
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