“I enjoy my job, and my coworkers are polite to me, but I wouldn’t say we’re friends, even though I’ve been there for two years. It doesn’t help that I can be shy. I want to know how to fit in at work and make friends at the office.”
Many people make friends with their coworkers, and one-third say they have a “best friend” at work. But it’s not always easy to get closer to your colleagues. You might feel that you don’t fit in or that you don’t have anything in common with anyone at the office.
Fortunately, with patience, you can build friendships at work. In this guide, you’ll learn how to turn colleagues into friends. These principles apply whether you’re in a white-collar or blue-collar workplace.
Think about how you are coming across to your coworkers. If you appear aloof or indifferent, they are unlikely to think of you as a potential friend.
- Smile: Don’t grin all the time, but try relaxing your facial muscles and smiling at your coworkers when you greet them.
- Acknowledge your coworkers: Say “Good morning!” or “Hello!” when you arrive at work and make a point of saying goodbye when you leave.
- Make eye contact: Confident eye contact makes you come across as likable.
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When you start at a new job, introduce yourself to everyone within the first couple of days. This makes it clear that you are willing to take the first step toward becoming friends.
- “Hello, I don’t think we’ve met yet. I’m [Name], I just joined the [Department name] last week.”
- “Hey, I’m [Name]. I started here yesterday. My desk is opposite yours.”
Small talk may seem trite, but it’s an important social signal. When you make casual conversation, other people will be reassured that you appear to have basic social skills and understand social norms. It’s also a gateway to uncovering commonalities and deeper conversations, which help you form a meaningful bond.
Check out this general guide to small talk: Tips to make small talk if you don’t know what to say.
Here are a few extra tips for making small talk at work:
- Look for clues around the workplace: For example, if their coffee mug or flask is branded with the logo of a sports team, sport is probably a good topic of conversation. If they have a photo of themselves and a group of friends in an exotic location on display, you could try bringing up the subject of travel.
- Show that you remember little details: For example, if your coworker tells you that they are going to see their son’s school play at the weekend, ask them about it on Monday morning. This shows that you care enough about what is happening in their lives outside of the office.
- Be ready to adapt your approach: Depending on the culture of your workplace, you may need to adjust your conversation topics based on your coworkers’ personality and position. For example, talking about your family with your boss may feel too awkward if you work in a formal office, but asking questions about the business or what they think of hot topics in your field can establish a relationship.
Make it easy for your coworkers to strike up a conversation with you. Put one or two things on your desk that a coworker could comment on, like a photo of your dog, an unusual potted plant, or a quirky ornament.
To get to know someone and make friends, you need to spend time together. Find out where your colleagues gather and make it one of your regular hangout spots. In most workplaces, this is often a breakroom or canteen. If you work in a remote team, post regularly in “off-topic” or “watercooler” channels. Even if you have a big workload, you can make time in your busy schedule for occasional five-minute coffee breaks.
Breaks are a good opportunity to spend time with coworkers and build friendships. Try not to be self-conscious about inviting a coworker along when you take a break; it’s considered perfectly normal in most work environments. Keep your invitation light and casual.
- “I’m hungry! Want to grab some lunch with me?”
- “I need some caffeine after that meeting. Would you like to get a coffee?”
If you’re an introvert, you might value your break times as a chance to recharge away from other people, but try to spend at least two breaks per week socializing with coworkers. You don’t have to spend a long time in their company. Twenty minutes is enough time to grab some food and make conversation.
If your coworker declines, wait a week and then ask them again. If they still don’t seem enthusiastic, ask someone else.
When your coworkers are younger or older than you, you may assume that you’ll have little or nothing in common. This isn’t necessarily true. Even if they are at a different stage of life, you may discover some commonalities. Most hobbies and interests aren’t age-specific, so try to see each coworker as an individual, not just a member of a particular group.
Make other people feel good when you’re around. You don’t have to be excessively optimistic, positive, or outgoing. You just need to be willing to make the environment nicer for everyone.
- Compliment people on their work. Keep your compliments low-key but sincere. For example, “Your presentation looked great!” or “You got that done so quickly. Impressive.” Show that you appreciate their efforts.
- Be open to new ways of doing things at work. Be polite and receptive to other peoples’ ideas, even if you don’t agree with them. For example, it’s better to say, “That’s interesting..I hadn’t thought of that. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s a new slant on the issue,” instead of “Huh, I don’t think that would work.”
- Help new coworkers settle in. Offer to show them around and invite them to have a drink or lunch with you.
- Use humor. In most workplaces, it’s OK to joke around or banter occasionally as long as it doesn’t get in the way of anyone’s work. Use light-hearted, inclusive humor to avoid causing offense. Do not joke about delicate topics such as sex or religion.
- If you feel bullied or victimized by a colleague, go to HR or your manager and ask for help resolving the issue. Do not complain to other coworkers or ask them to intervene.
- Be useful. If you can help someone out without sacrificing the quality of your own work, offer to lend them a hand.
You may find it easier to fit in at work if you adapt to the company culture. There’s no need to change your personality or working style completely, but taking note of the office norms can help you make friends.
For example, you might prefer to communicate via email or instant message, but if your coworkers tend to chat in the break room or go over to each others’ desks to swap information, follow their lead.
If you’re in a new job, going to work events is a good opportunity to meet all your colleagues quickly. If you’re an introvert, socializing with a lot of new people may be draining, but you don’t have to stay until the end. You only need to stay for one or two hours. This is long enough to have some interesting conversations with a few people and to show that you’re looking to make friends.
Low-key, fun activities can help you bond with your colleagues and kickstart conversations.
- Bring in some easy, fun games for the breakroom like Uno or Jenga
- Every Monday morning, ask everyone to post something funny or uplifting to Slack
- Bring in donuts on the last Friday of every month
If you feel like you’ve clicked with your coworkers and you’ve enjoyed several break times together, you could invite them to socialize outside of work.
If you’d like to hang out as a group, come up with a specific time and place that will work for as many people as possible. For example, if you know that one of your coworkers spends all their weekends with their family, it would be better to invite them to hang out one evening during the week.
[To a small group of colleagues in the break room]: “There’s a new diner just opened up around the corner. Anyone want to check it out after work on Thursday?”
Try to be inclusive. If you only invite a few people out, you may come across as unfriendly and inadvertently drive a wedge between some of your coworkers. You don’t have to spend a lot of time with people you don’t like, but it’s wise to invite them out as a group, at least occasionally.
You could also invite one of your work friends to spend time with you.
[To one coworker]: “Are you interested in going to see the new exhibit that opens next week? I was thinking of seeing it on Sunday. Would you like to come?”
If you want to hang out with just one coworker, be aware that your invitation could be misconstrued as an invitation to go on a date.
It’s best to build up a friendship at work that is clearly platonic and also hang out as part of a group before asking them to spend time together one-on-one. If you have a partner, talking about them is an easy way to signal that you aren’t looking for anything other than friendship.
Some people prefer not to socialize at work or share anything about their personal lives. They may be polite and friendly but maintain a professional barrier. This doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Invest your time and energy into people who are open to making friends.
It takes roughly 50 hours of shared time to form a friendship, so the more contact you have with your colleagues, the sooner you will make friends. The quality of your interactions is also important. Merely being in each others’ presence isn’t enough. You both need to make an effort to bond.
Yes. In most cases, it’s a good idea to think of socializing as part of your job. Research shows that making friends at work will increase your job satisfaction, help you make valuable connections that can grow your career, and help you feel more engaged with your work.
It may be possible to perform well in your job without socializing, especially if most of your tasks can be done alone. But for most people, socializing with colleagues makes their jobs more enjoyable and can also help them build useful professional networks.