The Best Ways To Make Friends At Work If You're Feeling Shy

by Megan Grant

For the third year in a row, Bustle's Upstart Awards are honoring young women who are doing incredible things in the realms of business, STEM, fashion and beauty, the arts, philanthropy, and beyond. Want to be an Upstarts honoree one day? Read on for career tips, insights, and inspiration to help get you there.

For many adults, our whole lives revolve around work — and we end up spending a lot of time with people in the office. If you are wondering how to make friends with your co-workers in a way that is fulfilling without presenting any risks, you're not alone. Getting close to colleagues even simply as friends can have the same potential pitfalls as dating your co-worker, which we all know is another big gamble.

It's hard not to become friends with your co-workers, since you likely spend more time with them than anyone else. You form a bond because you share this (rather large) common ground: same employer, similar goals, similar struggles, same group of friends and acquaintances. We celebrate birthdays and holidays together, and commiserate together over annoying bosses, heavy workloads, or unfair pay.

Sure enough, research has found that friendship at work is beneficial in a number of ways. According to Moritz Kothe, CEO of kununu, "Our reviews have shown that employees need balance when it comes to bonding and making friends. Time in and out of the office to connect as a team can really help strengthen morale and make work more fun, as well as easier to do in the long run."

But, if you're still a little worried about getting too close to your office mates, here are a few general dos and don'ts to keep in mind.

While workplace friendships can enhance your career experience, make work more enjoyable, and improve your creativity and productivity, there's a lot more to it than simply buddying up to your work wife and going on your merry way. Even once you've become friends with a co-worker, it's important to remember that this type of friendship isn't the same as a friendship that buds outside the workplace, for one major reason: the relationship was created in an environment you totally rely on for financial security, making that the top priority, as opposed to the friendship. There's so much more at stake; and whether we like to admit it or not, at the end of the day, the friendship has to take the back burner to the paycheck.

Furthermore, workplace friendships are at risk of fizzling out faster than other types of friendships, since work is the common ground on which everything was formed. What if one of you leaves the job? Gets moved to another department? The factor that made you friends in the first place — work — disappears, and the friendship might also.

So, what can one do to foster a genuine relationship that's not headed toward friendship breakup and won't jeopardize your position at work?

If making friends with co-workers doesn't feel all that natural to you to begin with, maybe it needs a little push: "Start going to lunch or get a coffee midday together," Nina Rubin, professional life coach, tells Bustle in an email. "Let the conversation slide from work stuff to the things you're doing — share about your hobbies and interests," she says. Other topics worth discussing? "Pets, favorite foods, vacation and travel, where you live, weekend plans — all fine," Laura MacLeod, LMSW, of From the Inside Out Project, tells Bustle. "As you get to know people and trust is built, you can deepen this conversation, but this is how to start."

Erica McCurdy, MCC, tells Bustle, "Making friends at work is a little like an old fashioned courtship instead of a hook-up. You have chaperones everywhere and you need to take your time getting to know the other person. Little deposits of interest over time will yield a stronger work friendship than diving into a 'bestie' relationship right away." In other words, don't try to rush things.

While it may see obvious, you should never gossip about other people at work. "It will make you look petty and untrustworthy," Rubin says.

Yes, untrustworthy: because if you're willing to talk nasty about other people to your friend, there's reason to believe you'll talk nasty about her to other people.

Another thing to watch out for? Forming groups that others don't feel like they can be a part of: "Try to be inclusive versus exclusive with your workplace friendships so you don't come across as cliquey and start to send a poor message to those around you," suggests Alina Tubman, career consultant and coach.

McCurdy also offers some helpful words of wisdom regarding a workplace friendship no-no: keep it clean! "Avoid the use of off-color language, telling jokes or assuming political, religious, or sexual preferences. No matter how close you eventually become, some topics don’t belong in the workplace as they might make others uncomfortable and may cause problems later. Save those conversations for times when you are away from work and have a better sense of what conversations are welcome and appropriate."

Instead, as Entrepreneur points out, try to find things in common — aside from your jobs. Are you both obsessed with Game of Thrones? (Probably.) Do you love hot yoga? Does your heart race at the mere thought of Trader Joe's $5 white wine? Don't limit yourselves to nothing but work talk.

Another way to get closer to co-workers in a more casual way is to add them on social media, once an appropriate amount of time has passed. This could help break the ice without breaking any boundaries. It shows you're taking an interest in their life and want to have a friendship outside of your job.

Just make sure you don't get friendlier online than you're willing to be in person — a tendency many of us are susceptible to, because talking online is so much easier than doing so in person. Stay true to the growing friendship, and who you are.

Forming personal relationships at work is a bit like walking a tightrope, with numerous things to look out for and avoid; but very often, these will be bonds that last for years. Don't miss the opportunity to connect with new people; just make sure your priorities are straight and you're treading with care.