Most people have two social groups in their lives: the people you hang out with all day, every day, because you have to (coworkers) and the people you hang out with by choice when you find the free time (friends). Lots of people keep these spheres separate, so there are firm boundaries in place between work life and real life. But what happens when you meet someone at work who you just adore and want to become friends with beyond office pleasantries?
There are a lot of reasons it’s great to have a true pal and confident at work. Random “just saying hi” pop ins make your day go faster. You have a constant lunch or coffee break buddy. And work-wise, it can often mean a strong ally on your side. But negotiating the road to real friendship can be a tricky one. Here’s how to do it.
1. Be picky—find someone you trust.
You can’t afford to lay it all out there for just anyone. Quality is much more important than quantity when it comes to office friendships. Shoot for one (or two) people who seem to have interests and life situations and values most in common with you.
2. Don’t rush the process.
Don’t jump right into the meaningful convos over margaritas stage, or the inviting people over for dinner with your family stage. Going from coworker to friend takes a gentle touch—if things don’t work out, you still need to see the person every day. Start with a casual coffee or a lunch to test the waters. Is the conversation effortless? Do you feel comfortable, and can you tell whether your new pal-to-be feels comfortable as well?
3. Go on a second date.
Just because the first foray went well, make sure it wasn’t just a fluke. Try another lunch or casual coffee, or maybe a happy hour. If you pick up straight where you left off and it still feels breezy and fantastic to be in their company, then keep at it.
4. Lead with what interests you.
Don’t just talk about work. Start trying out conversations that have more to do with your outside life, interests, hobbies, and passions, and see how well you match up. To build a real friendship you’ll need to build shared memories, which is much easier to do when you have more in common than just where you go to work each day. Try not to go too personal too soon, though—you can bare your soul a few months down the line, not right after you find out whether or not someone has any siblings.
5. Open up when you feel comfortable.
When you feel like things are really moving along well, it might be time to let your hair down cautiously and share some more personal details. No oversharing! Keep it relaxed and not too dramatic. Take your cues from your new friend, as well. Listen to what they’re talking about and try not to bulldoze through whatever boundaries they might be adhering to with big blockbuster confessions.
6. Keep potential complications in mind.
Having a work bestie or two can be great, but you should also be prepared for the occasional awkward situation. Say your friend gets promoted over you or starts to shoot up the ladder and you’re still stuck at entry-level. How might you react? Try to foresee a few of these possibilities and ask yourself if you’ll be able to be genuinely happy for your friend’s success and not too competitive throughout the course of your careers. Will this friendship be strong enough to weather the ups and downs of your working world?