By Tessa Matson

How to Make Friends at Work (Even When It Doesn’t Come Naturally)


Does making friends with your coworkers feel like a waste of time? Do you cringe every time a team outing or social event is proposed? Then you need to read this post. When work stress increases, the quality of your relationships with coworkers often decreases. And on occasion, you can justify prioritizing work demands over […]

Does making friends with your coworkers feel like a waste of time? Do you cringe every time a team outing or social event is proposed?

Then you need to read this post.

When work stress increases, the quality of your relationships with coworkers often decreases. And on occasion, you can justify prioritizing work demands over being warm and fuzzy with your peers; sometimes you just have to get things done and there isn’t time for conversations about the weekend or happy hours that stretch long into the night.

However, consistently isolating yourself from your coworkers can negatively impact your health, well-being, and your career success over time. So you can’t ignore it forever.

Instead of thinking about socializing as a waste of productive hours, think of it as an investment. The more you are able to bond and form meaningful connections at work, the stronger your network becomes and the happier you will be.

Further, a strong network can improve your odds of promotion and provide you with resources and support in times of trouble.

Making friends at work doesn’t have to be painful, either (even if it feels like it is now).

Half the battle is putting yourself out there so that you are available to meet and talk to coworkers. The other half is about embodying the type of person that you would want to talk to.

What do these things actually look like in the work setting? We’ve identified small steps you can take today to start fostering friendships and building your network.

Put yourself out there

You won’t make any friends if you’re never seen outside the walls of your cubicle.

Don’t wait for the introduction

It’s easier than you would think to never know the names of the people you work with. I once spent three months sitting next to someone I had never formally met (because we weren’t on the same team).

Sure, we recognized one another and even exchanged friendly smiles in the hallway, but neither one of us initiated a formal introduction, and as more time passed, it seemed like it would be awkward to do so.

When I finally did introduce myself, the awkward tension eased instantly.

Moral of the story? Don’t wait for someone else to make the first move. Introduce yourself to everyone at the office, even if it’s hard. Chances are they’ll be relieved you did it (so they didn’t have to), which will endear you to them instantly without you having to do more than shake a hand.

Talk to people in the elevator

You only need a few seconds to strike up an interesting conversation. And in the elevator, you have a captive audience. Ask you elevator companion about her plans for the weekend or whether he can recommend a good place to go for lunch.

Small talk can actually be a great way to form bonds with people you don’t know very well because once you’ve broken the silence, your elevator companion will be more likely to reciprocate the conversation next time. Community kitchens and break rooms are also great places to chat up a coworker.

Even if you don’t work directly with this person now, establishing a good rapport with people across your organization can pay off down the road in ways you could never predict today.

Don’t skip all-staff meetings

Sure, all-staff meetings can be boring — especially if they don’t directly relate to you and your work. But these meetings are often about more than the items on the agenda. All-staff meetings are a rare opportunity to bring everyone in the office together, to make connections beyond your immediate team, and to communicate shared values.

By not attending, you are not only missing out on this golden opportunity to network and build community, but you are sending a message that you don’t care.

Join inter-departmental teams

Working across departments is always a great way to meet people and promote community at work, but it is a particularly good idea if you are new-ish to an organization. Once you have your footing in your role, this is a great way to expand your impact and connect with people beyond your team.

The structure of these kinds of teams means you don’t have to do all the work to meet people. Simply by being part of the team, you will end up talking to people and forming relationships — all without having to figure out how to make small talk at a social function.

Many large organizations have planning committees, inclusion groups, or happiness teams whose job it is to set up organizational mixers or happy-hour meetups. By volunteering to be a part of these teams, you are less likely to isolate yourself when work starts to pick up and better positioned to seek help from a diverse group of colleagues.

Be someone you’d like to talk to

Imagine the best conversation you’ve ever had. What made that conversation so great? Was it your companion’s listening skills, his compassion that made you feel understood, or her humor that lightened the mood?

Adopt the traits that made you feel comfortable, and incorporate them into your own interactions at work. Even if it doesn’t feel natural at first (developing new habits never does!), trying new things will help you expand your conversational repertoire.

If they don’t work, it’s not the end of the world (other people don’t care as much about your side of the interaction as they do about their own) and you can try something else next time!

Keep most interactions positive

Negativity begets more negativity. Reverse the cycle by focusing on the positive.

Instead of complaining about how much work you have to do, describe the work you are most excited about doing or how amazing one of your coworkers has been at helping you get things done.

If someone else is complaining, respond compassionately and compliment them on their ability to cope. For example, “That sounds really tough. I’m amazed that you are able to accomplish so much despite this setback.”

The compassion validates their frustration while the compliment may disarm and defuse some of the negativity. Positive nonverbal communication is important too. Something as small as smiling in the hallway can go a long way to boost morale.

Ask about them (and remember)

Most people like to talk about themselves, and you can use this to your advantage when meeting new people.

Asking about others is also a good way to fill awkward lapses in conversation. You may have some questions in the back of your mind, like:

  • How did you become [job title]?
  • What is the most surprising thing about job?
  • Have you read any books lately that you’d recommend?
  • Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled?
  • What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Or, you may use open ended prompts such as, “what was that like?” to engage someone in conversation. When someone responds to your questions, actively listen to what they are saying.

Make mental notes about shared experiences and follow up questions you might bring up later like, “How is your cat doing after her vet appointment?” Your colleague will be surprised and delighted that you remembered these little details.

Recognize others’ accomplishments

Everybody likes to be acknowledged for the good work they do, but not everybody feels comfortable (or knows how to) share their accomplishments. Be the person that proactively recognizes and celebrates good work, and you will become everyone’s favorite coworker.

Send out office kudos or personal cards congratulating and thanking your team members. I keep beautiful stationary in my desk for just this purpose because the little things do make a difference.

Open up about non-work topics

Finding common ground is a good way to bond with coworkers. The most obvious common ground is your shared employment, which is an easy place to start. However, meaningful relationships often take this a step further and find common ground outside the work setting.

Opening up about your family, pets, vacation, or weekend plans is an easy way to transition into more personal conversation. Maybe you both love cats? Maybe you live in the same neighborhood but didn’t realize it?

People naturally feel closer to those for whom they know personal details. Of course, not everyone will want to talk about their personal life, and you will need to respect that decision. Never push someone to share anything they are not comfortable with.

Similarly, be honest with yourself about what you’re willing to share, and what you would prefer to keep private. Thinking ahead about this can help prevent you from accidentally over-sharing in the moment.

Start investing in your work relationships today

Relationships are a two-way street, and once you start asking people about themselves and recognizing their accomplishments, people will start to reciprocate. Don’t close off when this happens. This is where you are building the foundation for future connections and opportunities you can’t even imagine today.

You may be busy, but by making time to foster relationships with the people you work with, you will actually make your work life much easier and more enjoyable.