Friends at Work

Soft skills are more than just a collection of techniques; they also subtly incorporate ways of thinking and perspectives. Forming friendships at work requires skill and appreciation of why it’s important for you and others.

Generally, the same skills and thinking apply in much the same ways to our personal lives and our work lives. Take for example planning; the same communication and negotiation skills come in to play whether you are planning a project with work colleagues or a holiday with your friends. Think about the way you and others approach each of those situations and the communication styles. There is likely the need for patience, understanding and a desire to accommodate each other. Home and work might not be exactly the same because of differing roles and people, but you can see similarities right? Also the significance of some character traits may be more important at work (e.g. leadership). However in this example of planning and many examples you will be able to think of, not a lot differs around how we are and what expect from others.

Studies also demonstrate that we are looking for a reasonably significant connection with our colleagues and the businesses we deal with. Respect, trust and compassion regularly come up as the key characteristics expected of our leaders and peers. You are far more likely to love work if you are friends (have a personal relationship) with the people you work with.

“”Employees who have best friends at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, while those who have at least three “”vital friends”” at work are 96% more likely to be satisfied with their lives.”” – Gallup

I am sure you have read about all the benefits of being happy in your job. In short it has been repeatedly proven (most recently with neuroscience) that happier people are far more productive, creative and more easily solve problems. People utilising their strengths for positive outcomes also generally have less conflict at work. You are more likely to go further in your career.

So regardless of being at work, home, social etc, we generally;
• expect the same thing from people,
• have and use the same soft skills with people,
• are looking for the same values in people, and
• want to be happy (and happy employees are better for business).
Why then, do a great majority of us work so hard at keeping work separate from our personal lives? Why do we create a work persona, expect emotion (and fun) be left at the door and treat others as titles rather than people?

I think there are two reasons; legislation and culture. By shedding some light on them I am hoping we can each help reduce or remove them.

Legislation: Employees and employers seem all to ready to engage discrimination, harassment or even criminal legislation as the first step in resolving people issues. Rather than requiring developed relationships and using soft skills, instead, a formal discussion from management and/or a letter addresses misconduct. That formality rarely comes with an explanation of the impacts had on individuals and it is rarely done in a manor to rebuild broken or damaged relationships. In many ways we are able to hide behind legislation and corporate policies, we never really have to engage or resolve any issue. If I don’t like the blonde joke Billy just made then I can lodge a sexual harassment complaint. Management can tell Billy it’s not ok.

The legislation definitely needs to be there though, because in the end like any law it provides protection to those who can’t easily protect themselves. And for businesses it provides clear and definite boundaries to address issues. So employers should still work on policy and education to make sure people are clear on expectations and absolute repercussions of certain behaviour. I think what would make a significant difference though is where applicable, the policy and education should focus the first step on individuals resolving the issue. If I don’t like blonde jokes, I should tell Billy that, and why. If he doesn’t respect that and I have tried then I can engage management who can let him know it’s not ok.

As individuals we also have a choice regardless of what legislation or policy is in place (in most cases). In the end it is up to us whether we want to either make a formal complaint or chat with the other person ourselves. In every case I have seen where the company gets involved the two people never work well together after. Which makes sense, think about if you were the person that made a mistake; when a reprimand comes via the company you are not given any freedom to understand, apologise and correct it. Generally it’s just the resentment you try to ward off for being dobbed on. Relationships also grow through the process of understanding (forgiveness) and acceptance, how will that happen if you never speak to the person you’re annoyed with.

Culture: Part of the culture element comes from the policies defined by the company. If policy doesn’t encourage people to resolve issues themselves first, while providing a safe and fast avenue if it fails, then the culture of the business will be not to. People will go straight to the boss/HR.

Wider than the impact policy and legislation has, in Australia we have a well-established culture that work should be serious and controlled. That in some ways friendships translates to lawlessness or at least favouritism. Maybe you have worked in a place where “the boys club look after each other””? Hey it may be true but that is not because of friendship, it’s because people have allowed friends slack when they shouldn’t have.

It’s actually pretty funny the belief that we need to be serious and professional conflicts directly with our need to connect with people and we choose the former. We seem to just maintain that being professional is more important or the right thing to do.

Being friends with the people you work with in some ways introduces more challenges. We each have a job to do, a set or responsibilities and authorities that need to be respected. Friends, acquaintances and colleagues all need to respect us for the job we have to do. We also need to respect our friend’s roles and responsibilities too.

This is a key area for soft skills development; enhancing our ability to work with and communicate with managers, colleagues and hopefully friends. Soft Skills enable us to address issues with people without formal complaints. They enable us to develop stronger working relationships at a minimum. If we are lucky we develop friendships and we not only enjoy work even more, but also life in general. Sounds good to me!

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