Want to Make a Best Friend at Work? Start With Yourself.

January 31, 2023

by Morag Barrett, Eric Spencer & Ruby Vesely

If life came with a universal spoiler alert, it would be this: “You’re going to have to interact with other people.”

For some of us, this may be more a cause for consternation than celebration (we see you, introverts), but even if you dread big crowds or public speeches, you still crave some form of connection. Connection is hard-wired into our DNA. It’s part of what makes us human.

The ability to form deep connections with colleagues, bosses, clients, etc. vastly improves your work and the experience you have at work. Statistic after statistic shows that having a best friend at work makes work better. People who have close friends at work are more productive (21%), safer (36% fewer incidents), and less likely to leave our job (12%).

Friendships are a smart business move. But connection also makes the rest of our lives better. Clearly connection matters.

However, even with all the technology at our disposal, the non-stop zoom-google-teams-meetings, the endless emails, slack messages, and text that provide an illusion of connection, we’re becoming increasingly disconnected. The pandemic has certainly weakened the ties that bind organizations. The sense of isolation and loneliness has increased with 20% of leaders completing our Ally Mindset Profile reporting that they have no friends at work. Not one. A further 67% report that their success has been undermined by the words and actions of a colleague, only increasing distrust and the silos that slow us down every single day.

It’s time for us all to rethink and reprioritize the health of our professional relationships. Connection is a key practice of an Ally MindsetTM, a model for moving from a me-focus to a we-focus in your relationships that we share in our book You, Me, We: Why We All Need a Friend at Work (and How to Show Up As One).

But connection can feel challenging to create, especially at work. It’s tempting to skip the work of connecting or pretend it doesn’t matter when the work of relationship-building feels daunting, Fortunately, it doesn’t require a Herculean effort. The work of connection is the work of the everyday, existing in small moments and commonplace interactions.

According to Brené Brown, connection is “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

So how do you build that energy in the everyday course of work?

The Secret to Building Connection in Your Ordinary Moments

Are you ready for the secret? Lean in close, friend. Here it is. Every interaction is a chance to build connection.

For all that we love a grand gesture in movies, it’s not the dramatic slow-mo run to stop the plane that builds strong relationships. Relationships are made or broken one conversation, one interaction at a time. You forge strong connections when you consistently choose to show up in your relationships with others. So what does this look like practically?

4 Simple but Impactful Ways to Build Connection

There are certainly more ways to build connection than this list details (read You, Me, We for more), but you can immediately implement these four connection touchpoints without adding an extra task to your to-do list. They are as much ways of being as they are things to be doing.

1. Choose to go first.

If you want to have a friend at work, then you need to be a friend at work. It means being human with the other person- asking questions, communicating openly, and (our personal favorite) having fun together! If you want to trust and be trusted, then every workday should be “Bring Your Human to Work Day.”

When you choose to go first and invest relational capital in the people around you, you’ll find that connection naturally develops right alongside your ally relationships. And when you have relationships where trust, connection, and respect flow freely, your work becomes lighter, and we all become #bettertogether.

2. Ask “How Can I Help?”

Asking how you can help puts compassion into action, especially for those who feel uncomfortable asking for help. It’s a tangible means of showing support, but it also expresses respectful empathy. Asking what you can do to help rather than coming in with your own plan tells the other person you are more concerned with their needs and wants than your own ideas and opinions. It positions you as a partner and someone they can trust instead of the white knight on a horse (aka. overbearing glory hog).

3. Communicate with Deep Presence

It’s one thing to be physically in the room when you’re talking to someone else, it’s quite another to be present with your whole self. Ruby coined the phrase deep presence to describe how we can better show up in our relationships. Deep presence is an intentional choice to pour energy into being there in that moment. Minimize distractions, listen without problem-solving, and just be there when you’re talking to someone else. Your whole attention is a gift they’ll appreciate.

4. Have Fun

While we don’t suggest putting anyone’s stapler in jello (unless you work at Dunder Mifflin), having fun at work is a vital part of building connection. Why? Because science!

When you laugh with someone, you bond chemically. Laughter produces oxytocin, the “bonding chemical” and, as we discuss in You, Me, We, a hormone directly tied to our levels of trust. You’re not just enjoying a good chuckle; you’re connecting in a deeply powerful way.

We know not all fun inspires laughter, but even without a belly laugh, having fun together strengthens your connection. Strong relationships are predicated on being there in bad times and in good. We see different sides of each other when we’re relaxed and smiling. So go on already, let the good times roll!

Connection and Compassion

Connection, and its good buddy compassion, are built best in everyday interactions. When others feel seen, heard, and appreciated in the small moments of each day, they will feel connected. But the real magic comes in the way those small moments build on each other.

Much like birds build their nests one twig, one piece of grass at a time, you have the opportunity to build deep connection one interaction at a time. Each time you show another person they’re valued – by listening intently, showing compassion, or laughing at a funny cat video they shared, you strengthen your connection with them and become the kind of friend we all want to have.

If you’d like to see how well you practice connection & compassion (and get some tips on how to improve), take our free Ally Mindset profile. And of course, get your hands on a copy of You, Me, We. Why we all need a friend at work (and how to show up as one!)

Morag Barrett is a sought out executive coach and member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches organization. Eric Spencer is passionate about developing high performing leaders and teams. Ruby Vesely is a valued executive coach and facilitator. Together they are the heart of SkyeTeam, an international leadership development firm, and the coauthors of You, Me, We. Why we all need a friend at work (and how to show up as one!)