How To Turn Work Friends Into Real Ones

When you start a new job, figuring out who to sit next to at lunch seems like a big enough hurdle. But as you learn how to make friends in the office, the next question becomes: how do you make your work buddy into an actual, real life friend? And whether you just really like them, or are in a new city needing a new social circle, it might end up being up to you to give your relationship a little nudge in the right direction.

“Being able to make friends with fellow coworkers in the workplace is the gold standard everyone should hope to achieve," Steve Wang, a human resources expert who operates a resume writing services blog tells Bustle. "Having a friend at work not only makes the job more enjoyable and fun, it can also boosts productivity levels and increases employee retention rates." So it's worth it to really put your energy into building a relationship with the staff member who's funniest on Slack.

There are three main reasons that a work friend can end up being a really great real-life friend, according to Jenn DeWall, millennial life and career coach. You share common ground, you spend enough time with them to really understand what they're about, and you can use the friendship to make work itself more enjoyable. So even though you have to balance professionalism and the ability to stay composed if the budding friendship falls apart, putting your energy into building work friendships is definitely a good idea. And despite the awkwardness of water-cooler talk, it's not as hard as you might think.

Here are 8 ways to transition a work friendship into a real-life one, according to experts.

1Take Baby Steps

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If you want to befriend a coworker, you'll need to take it a bit slower than you would in other social settings. “Take baby steps,” life coach, Desiree Wiercyski, tells Bustle. This means testing the waters in social settings and being careful about how much of your personal life you bring up early on.

“Go slow,” life coach Erica McCurdy tells Bustle. “You may not realize how much of your personal life you are introducing into your work life when a work friend becomes a personal friend. Losing control of your personal privacy at work may cause you to rethink the decision.” So take cues from them as the friendship develops. You don’t need to be secretive, but it’s worth the time and energy to keep things workplace-safe.

2Support Them Inside The Office

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Good friendship is all about trust. And if you want to get a work friend to trust you outside the office, you're going to need to make sure you're there for them in the office too. In turn, you should expect the same from them.

“Be supportive. If they make a mistake or need some help, step up and assist," DeWall says. And when it comes down to the little things, like lending them a tampon or helping them clean up a spill in the kitchen, be there for them then, too. This kind of in-office rapport can be a great building block for a really strong friendship.

3Use Social Media

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This may seem cheesy, but testing the waters on social media can be a great way to gauge the potential of a friendship outside your workplace comfort zone.

"Add a person to your Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook account," McCurdy says. "You can get a sense of their involvement outside of work without draining your free time. You may love what you find, but you may not,” McCurdy says. Plus, if things look not-terrible, you can build some of your friendship online, too. Who doesn't want another person to tag in work-related memes?

4Start With Lunch

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If you’re really invested in taking the time to get to know someone, starting inside the work day isn’t impossible. Just get out of the office itself.

“As simple as it sounds, simply getting out of the office together for lunch or for a break can give you a quick glimpse at what hanging out with someone outside of the office would be like,” Wiercyski says. Plus, you know that checking out that cool new lunch spot together sounds much more fun than going it alone and eating at your desk.

5Actually Ask Them

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A lot of this boils down to actually putting the effort into this budding relationship. And that won't actually happen unless you ask them, up front, to do things with you.

“As awkward as it may sound, shifting an office friendship to being outside of the office is a bit like dating," Wiercyski says. "So, if you’ve worked together for a bit and feel like you’ve gotten a sense of who the person is, then it’s time to ask them to go to happy hour, coffee, or to even try out an exercise class after work. Doing this allows you to be flexible for their schedule, and is casual enough that if they do want to hang out, but have a different idea on what to do, they can feel comfortable putting it out as an idea." It may seem uncomfortable, depending on your office environment, but it's a sure-fire way to get the ball rolling.

6Find Common Interests

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Now that you've added them on social media and had a couple meals together, you're probably closer than before to actually befriending your work buddy. But a strong connection won't form unless you transition the conversation topic from griping about HR to connecting over things you're really interested in.

“When you take the time to learn about someone’s interests, you have more leverage to know what to do together outside of the workplace that may lead to a fruitful friendship,” Chelsea Connors, certified coach and therapist, tells Bustle. And once you’ve figured out what (if anything) you have in common, you can start to go on outings outside a 3-block radius of your office, doing things you actually enjoy.

“Take a cooking class, go to the theater, or take a yoga class,” McCurdy says. It’s great to have someone to accompany you when you’re doing things you love no matter what.

7Include Other People

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Another way to build up a work friendship is to extend the friendship into other social groups, and see how it holds up. This is especially helpful if you're new somewhere, and need a little bit of a social boost.

"Do a happy hour with a few of your IRL friends. See how everyone blends," McCurdy suggests. "Your friends know you and might see things you don’t. It’s a good way to test the waters and see if your work friend is a fit for your friend group or if there is anything that might cause a problem later on." And if there are no problems, or you or the coworker end up making even more friends out of the situation, that's an added plus.

“By including others, you’re adding a new element and level of trust into the relationship," Wiercyski says. Lovely, huh?

8Take The Risk

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Again, like dating, you're just going to have to follow the leads of this friendship in good faith. You took a risk by accepting this job in the first place, and a strong friendship is worth a little risk-taking too.

"If you want to create a real friendship with someone, the relationship has to be about more than work and surface level stuff," Wiercyski says. "That means, someone is going to need to be vulnerable to build the relationship." Yes, you will have to walk a tightrope between professionalism and close friendship, but it'll be worth it.

"This one may seem simple but is commonly overlooked. Be authentically you,” Connors says. You may have to put in a little work when it comes to scheduling and planning, but if your work friend and you actually have a good connection, this will be the most important component. And things will fall into place.