As children, making friends is as easy as hitting the playground at recess. But as an adult, it’s more difficult—you’re most likely out of school and busy with family, work, and outside interests. It’s only natural to make friends at work.
Whether you’re starting a job where a friend already works, or making new friends on the job, workplace friendships can be great—but they also can be fraught with danger. Beware of watercooler gossip, cliquish behavior, and hurt feelings.
Fast Company asked several business leaders for their best advice for navigating office friendships. Here’s what they said.
If you’re looking to make new friends:
From the moment you interview at a company, you should share your full self, says Maneesh K. Goyal, founder and president of Live in the Grey, an online community offering resources for blending your personal and professional lives.
“Incorporate experiences and insights you’ve learned outside of work into your answers to show that you have extracurricular passions,” Goyal says.
Once you have the job, he suggests decorating your workspace with personal touches that reflect your personality, such as family photos, or adding your favorite books to the bookshelf.
As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to eat lunch at your desk. Goyal suggests planning a lunch with one colleague a week to get to know them better.
He also advocates inviting coworkers to events outside of work. If you’re an artist on the side and have a show coming up, for example, invite coworkers to the show, or invite a fellow music lover to a concert. “It’s a gesture of goodwill…and you’ll have the chance to bond over a common interest,” he says.
It used to be that friendships at work were frowned upon because they interfered with productivity. “Actually, it’s the opposite,” Goyal says. “By becoming friends, you’ll learn about your colleagues’ passions, their strengths, their weaknesses, their past and their expectations.”
If you land a gig where a friend already works:
Your friend likely has his own feelings and perceptions about the company. “Don’t let your friend’s experiences dictate your expectations one way or the other,” Goyal says.
Ask your friend objective questions like where the forks are kept in the kitchen, or how to access documents from the server, and figure out answers to the subjective ones yourself, he suggests.
Be careful not to close yourself off from other coworkers because you already have a built-in lunch buddy. Goyal recommends grabbing lunch with different colleagues or a group during your first week.
At Konnect Public Relations, a Los Angeles-based PR firm, employees are encouraged to make referrals, says COO Monica Guzman. The agency sets the tone upfront by explaining its policies about working with friends during interviews.
“We do not allow friends to manage friends,” Guzman says. This allows both workers to focus on their work and communicate well without worrying about friction affecting the relationship, she notes. The firm also has a strict policy against cliques, gossip, and exclusion of team members.