Thanks to the International Institute of Directors and Managers (IIDM), Michelle shares her thoughts on why work friendships are important.
Organisations often talk about culture but rarely consider the role that friendships play in creating a healthy, dynamic and productive work environment.
Some leaders believe that if a work environment is too collegiate, people will stop challenging each other, and ideas won’t be debated. However, combative environments where a dominant person subjugates the opinions of others and is unfriendly and highly politicised can be destructive. The damage to employees’ mental health and well-being from working in such an environment is well known.
Workplaces are complex environments – bringing together a melting pot of people with varying ideas, assumptions, experiences, expectations and ambitions. It’s about finding the balance between too much friendship and not enough collegiality.
If you want an engaged and productive workplace where employees constructively challenge and go beyond the norm, consider how you nurture and encourage healthy friendships.
Our brain quickly assesses whether it sees someone as a ‘friend’ or ‘foe’. It sizes someone up and judges whether a person is ‘in my tribe’ or ‘outside my tribe’.
The brain then processes the information we receive from that person according to which category we’ve put them in. What this means in practice is that if two people are saying the same thing to us, and one person is considered a ‘foe’ and the other person a ‘friend’, we will interpret what they are saying differently. It’s like giving someone the benefit of the doubt. We will do that for a friend, but not for a foe.
If you see other people as ‘foes’ in the workplace, you are more likely to misinterpret their intent, which leads to distrust, disagreement, and unproductive competitive behaviour. None of which help to build a collaborative and productive workplace.
In his book ‘Vital Friends: The People you can’t afford to live without’, Tom Rath outlines research which shows that employees who have best friends at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. Additionally, if they have at least three vital friends at work, they are 96% more likely to be satisfied with their lives.
Having a solid network is vital for career success, but it’s meaningless if the relationships in that network aren’t genuine. It’s easy to spot the person, who can network, network, network, yet the relationship is superficial and highly transactional. A relationship that focuses purely on what you can get from it fuels disconnection.
Connection is at the root of all human existence. Having someone, you can share experiences with, bounce ideas off and talk through problems is good for the soul. When you work with people, you like the work is more enjoyable, and you are likely to find yourself more connected. When you feel more connected at work, you’ll feel happier.
Of course, being happier sparks a whole range of additional benefits.
Good friends don’t just agree with you. They challenge and inspire you to greater heights. They help you see things from different perspectives and to explore new ideas. It’s much easier to take input and feedback from a friend who you trust. Similarly, having an affiliative and collaborative environment makes it easier for ideas to be debated, agreed on and progressed.
Research demonstrates that cooperating with others activates the same reward circuitry in your brain as when you eat chocolate. So cooperating makes you feel good too.
If you want to develop an influential and effective team, consider the role that friendship can play in helping to create the culture you need to excel.
As you do this, remember the words of relationship expert Dale Carnegie: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you”.