Several days ago, I was talking to a younger colleague – let’s call her Cathy – who was distressed because she had just changed jobs. In her new place of employment, social lines are strictly divided by department.
An outgoing social butterfly, Cathy was used to being liked and sought out in all aspects of her life – including work. It was usually just a few weeks before she had found a new work best friend, and would lunch regularly with coworkers.
But at this new office, Cathy was finding that the culture was radically different from any she had experienced before. Even after making several attempts to befriend and chat up her colleagues, she was getting nowhere.
After relaying this story, I looked at her and shrugged. “It’s not worth worrying about,” I told her.
Cathy protested, saying how worried she was that maybe she had made the wrong impression – that she may have inadvertently offended anyone.
“Are you the only who is treated this way?” I asked.
“No,” was the response. “Pretty much everyone sticks to themselves. There are a few people who are friends, but they have been there forever and just stay within their own departments.”
“In that case, you are off the hook,” I said. “It’s not personal. It’s not about you.”
Work is no more about friendships than competitive sports is. Men understand that business is business and personal and person. When they disagree over work-related matters, they don’t feel that they aren’t being disloyal or unsupportive.
But for many women, our relationships with our colleagues is so significant that we aren’t good about keeping appropriate emotional distance. Our upbringing – our roles within society – has conditioned us to value relationships, and to protect those relationships.
A lot of the women that I know struggle with this concept. We understand that “business is business” on an intellectual level – but not on an emotional one. We are hurt when our work friend doesn’t support an idea in a meeting. When two colleagues go out to lunch and don’t invite us, we feel slighted.
Friendships shouldn’t be the focus of your workday. Your job is to do your job. If you make a friend at work, that is a wonderful byproduct and benefit. But it can’t be your main goal.
Indeed, if you do make a friend at work, you need to think of her as two people: your colleague and your pal. You can be friends after 5:00 p.m., during the lunch hour. You are coworkers during meetings. Understand that you can be loyal to your friend, and disagree with a business strategy. Why? Because they are separate roads. Keep to this practice, and you will have much more peace in your life.
And, if like Cathy, you haven’t made friends at work then remember that you just can’t be friends with everyone. You can’t force work friendships. Put your head down and do your work. Worrying about friendships – or the lack thereof – at work are a distraction that you just don’t need during this economic time. What you need to worry about is shining for your boss.