How to Turn Work Relationships Into Friendships

Author: Zenresume Editorial Team
Updated on March 05, 2021

It's natural to feel a distance between yourself and your co-workers.

But does that mean you should keep your distance?

Each day is an opportunity to make connections and learn something new about the people you work with.


So many of us can’t see it from that perspective.

In this article you’ll learn how to avoid isolation at work and make the most of professional relationships.

Group of colleagues at work, two people shaking hands

Routines Are Okay but Isolation at Work Is No Good

When you're familiar with a routine, it's often difficult to break from it. You're accustomed to doing things a certain way.


  • You’re always eating lunch at your desk.
  • You’re leaving the office at exactly five o'clock.
  • You’re spending your evenings on personal projects.

While routines are important, they can compromise your relationships.

In other words—

Refusing to spend time with people working around you can have an isolating effect.

Just look at this:

Every time you ate your lunch at your desk, you could have shared it with colleagues.

Every time you left at five o'clock, you might have missed an invitation for drinks.

Every time you skipped a team get-together at a nice bar, you might have lost a chance to do something way more exciting than what you had waiting at home that day.

The workplace is for work, of course, but it's also full of like-minded people who have similar interests and hobbies as you. Again, it's natural to feel a distance between yourself and your co-workers, and it's common to have doubts and fears.

But how about you try to move past your hesitation?

Group of people at the workplace

5 Steps to Making Friends with Your Co-Workers

Here’s how to avoid isolation at work and build friendly relationships with your colleagues:

1. Adopt the Right Mindset

A positive attitude is your greatest asset when making new friends.

Would you rather make friends with someone who has energy, enthusiasm and an optimistic outlook, or someone who seems closed off and unavailable?

Adopting the right mindset is critical to any kind of progress, and negativity is fatal.

One of the most formidable obstacles people face when forming friendships is negativity:

They get in their own way. Everyone is guilty of this to a certain extent by making excuses as to why someone wouldn't want to talk to them, so they have a "valid" reason to give up before they try.

While it's true that some workers want to keep their professional and personal lives separate, many people find themselves in your exact position.

They're waiting for someone to talk to them first, to make the first move. Because of this, nothing happens.

If you're hoping for change, you have to instigate it.

Start small, participating in any work events which your company offers and getting to know your colleagues a little better. Accept invitations to meet after work, and most of all, remain positive, as things will turn around even if they're not going your way.

Three people at work

2. Help Whenever Possible

Ask yourself the question, "Would I want me as a friend?"

Regardless of your answer, you'll gain insight from placing yourself in the shoes of a co-worker. Consider the situation from their perspective, and you may begin to see why others might have chosen not to approach you in the past.

It isn't always the result of a negative personality trait like a mean disposition or short temper.

Your co-workers might see you as someone who keeps to themselves, completing tasks and finishing projects without any assistance. This lack of communication can foster feelings of unfamiliarity, causing a disconnect.

If you want to amend the problem, take the initiative and help your co-workers whenever possible. Go above and beyond with generous gestures which change their opinion of you.

You're no longer the person who stays at their desk all day, but the person who showed them how to unjam the printer last week.

When you develop a reputation for enthusiasm and positivity, people will naturally seek you out for social functions and events.

As you know, making friends as an adult isn't always easy, but you'll find it's far easier when you make yourself approachable. One nice thing every day is enough to make a difference.

People working together in a conference room

Speaking of friendship at work—

3. Organize Social Functions

If you can't find any opportunities to connect with your co-workers, you'll have to make them.

Even if you don't have much experience in the area, you should organize a social function to learn more about the people you work with. It isn't as difficult as it might seem.

Before you begin, think about your interests and the interests of your co-workers. You need to plan an event that appeals to them, something they want to attend instead of an obligation.

If you're looking for ideas, take a quick survey of your office and see which suggestions are reasonable with your resources.

Maybe your co-workers are interested in an athletic event like a volleyball game, or something calm and quiet like a book club. Whatever you choose to do with your time, you'll get to know the people you see every day in a different light — not as colleagues, but as actual people.

Of course, you didn't think of them as aliens before, but the point remains the same:

It's all too common to place the people you meet into categories, and "co-worker" is one of them, complete with its own expectations.

When you meet your co-workers outside the workplace, communication is more natural.

Photo from above, two people working together on some graphs

4. Avoid Common Mistakes

As mentioned earlier, enthusiasm and positivity are admirable qualities which will help your relationships in the workplace.

At the same time, you should also approach others with tact and sensitivity, aware of the context of the situation. Sometimes it's better to wait instead of jumping right in.

You might not realize you're bothering someone until they bring it up, and when it reaches that point, the embarrassment can feel crushing.

Of course, you shouldn't blame yourself, but you also shouldn't wave it off. Everyone has room for improvement and can benefit from a bit of introspection.

Ask yourself if you've made any of these common mistakes with work relationships:

  • Engaging in noisy activities at your work station.
  • Skipping out on office parties and birthday cards.
  • Complaining about your work or other employees.
  • Failing to make small talk with your co-workers.
  • Microwaving food with a strong odor.

These social faux pas aren't always easy to recognize in the moment.

When you're busy and block a co-worker's attempt to make small talk, it might seem rational, but they'll see it from a different perspective.

These small mistakes you make can compound and affect your professional and personal lives.

Closeup on hands of people at work

5. Always Take the Initiative

Everyone has felt reluctant at one time or another to reach out to a person they want to know better.

Moving your relationship with someone from the level of acquaintance to an actual friendship takes work and investment. In fact, research shows you need 200 hours to cement a "close" friendship.

With this in mind, you shouldn't wait for the other person to approach you first.

Even if you're somewhat clumsy and awkward, remind yourself that socialization is a skill, and the more you socialize, the more confident you'll feel the next time you start a conversation with a colleague.

Here are some simple ice breakers you could use to initiate small talk:

  • "Do you have anything exciting planned for the weekend?"
  • "Know any good places to have lunch around the office?
  • "Have you seen [popular show/movie/etcetera]?"

If your attempts ever feel ineffectual, remember these words from public speaker Mark Bowden, an expert in communication, body language and human behavior: "It's often not what you say, but how you say it that gets results!"

You'll find truth in this statement, stressing the importance of tone and demeanor.

What Do You Think?

Do you think it’s always a good idea to try and make friends at work? Perhaps you’ve witnessed situations where it’s gone somewhat wrong?

Finally: what are your best tips for turning peers into friends? Let me know in the comments! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.



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