By Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D.
Healthy relationships with co-workers are easy to spot. If you share ideas openly, communicate regularly, and consistently act in a professional manner, you likely have a solid relationship with your co-worker.
In healthy co-worker relationships, everyone completes deliverables with quality, and honor agreed upon deadlines.
You brainstorm effectively, respect one another, and feel like equal contributors to the team. While there is a big difference between a healthy co-worker relationship and a healthy friendship outside of work, a healthy relationship with a co-worker should bring a smile to your face. And, you should feel certain that you can count on the co-worker to listen to your ideas in a meeting (even when she presents an opposing thought) and to stand-in for you in an emergency.
We should use great care to distinguish between healthy relationships with co-workers and friendships. It is ideal to be friendly with a co-worker. It’s even appropriate to grab lunch with a co-worker and to schmooze about the latest TV show or sports game.
A true friend is someone who will have your back, even if it might cost him his job. A true friend is someone who you would be friends with outside of work, even if you no longer worked for the organization or industry. If your co-worker meets those criteria, then the co-worker is also a true friend.
But, more likely than not, the co-worker just falls in the “friendly” category. And, that is a great place to be when it comes to the workplace. You can get along well without sharing your life story with your co-worker. You can chat about something funny on social media without getting into a huge political debate.
It is best to focus on work topics while at work. This ensures that we get our work done on time so that we may have more time to spend with our true friends and loved ones.
If your co-worker enjoys chatting about topics unrelated to work, set specific “chat” time into your schedule. If you don’t want to offend your co-worker, but need to get your task done, ask the co-worker if you can talk about it over lunch or grab coffee later in the afternoon. Say something like, “I’ve got to finish this deliverable, but I’m happy to chat about this over lunch. Want to take our lunch break at the same time today?”
A co-worker relationship, regardless of the level of comfort, is likely not a true friendship. We have very few true friends in the workplace.
It is not necessary to get together outside of the office. However, if you share common interests and wish to do so, then that is fine! It’s important to remember to maintain your boundaries, even outside of the office. While you may develop a true friendship with this co-worker, you will likely maintain the “friendly” co-worker relationship status.
This means that you should use care when speaking about workplace gossip.
And, even though it may seem intuitive to share your workplace woes with your coworker because she’s the one who truly understands, opt to chat about work stuff with a true friend or loved one, instead.
When a co-worker is not a true friend, you cannot expect him to keep your dialogue private. Don’t share anything with a co-worker that you wouldn’t want repeated at the next team lunch or private meeting.
Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., is an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner. She is the author of “Working with Difficult People” and the principal consultant at The Cooper Strategic Group. Follow Dr. Amy on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.