Career Advice: Friends at Work Should be Strategic
There are many things that can set your career up for success. Some of these are well known, such as getting a good education and practicing for interviews. However, the more delicate intricacies of how a person rises to the top ranks are often left unsaid.
One excellent example of career advice that is often left unsaid is the colleague/friend relationship boundary. Many people don't realize that there should be a boundary. Allowing a colleague to become your friend can come with both good and bad consequences. Therefore, making friends at work should be a strategic decision--one you make with plenty of forethought.
First, let's dive into the good that can come from strategically making friends at work. Befriending colleagues who are top performers better positions you to have friends in high places in the coming years. These are people who will be future managers, bosses, and decision makers. Therefore, these colleagues will be a resource or a contact for you throughout your career. This is the most simplistic and most beneficial form of networking.
Before you worry that you may be setting someone up to use them, consider how you would feel about recommending someone you've known for a long time for a job. You are well aware of their abilities and work ethic, and you know what they could contribute. This is the position your friend would be in with you, and often, they are eager to make the recommendation, assuming you have put your best foot forward and shown to be a diligent worker over the years. As any manager will tell you, it's hard to find good employees. Being able to recommend a highly skilled person for a job is a plus for that person.
This brings about a very important point though, you should understand the purpose of this friendship. This is a friend who should associate you with positive work qualities, such as reliability and patience. That means this isn't the friend you go out drinking with to vent about your recent break up. You have other friends for that.
In fact, that's exactly the type of bad consequence that can happen when you don't make friendships at work strategic. Opening up to anyone you work with can be detrimental for your career. Talking about relationships, gossiping, or showing emotional instability with people you work with can come back to haunt you. After all, you never know who will rise through the ranks to become your next manager. It could be the colleague you decided to confide in about cheating on your spouse. Or, it could be the close friend of that colleague who becomes your next boss.
If you want your career to advance as rapidly as possible, you must avoid setting up brigades for yourself. This can happen many years later, especially when it has to do with the persona you've built with specific colleagues. Remember, you are working with these people. There will always be a bit of competition in the environment, so it's vital that you are strategic about what you share, how you share it, and with whom.
A strong, strategic friendship can be the difference between a dead-end job and a promotion. It can also be your in at another company or another field.