We Are Co-Workers, Not Friends

by Risa Dixon

How many of you have encountered that colleague at work who, for whatever reason, thinks that working together entitles them to information about your personal life. These people are the ones who have to be quickly reminded that you two are co-workers and not friends.

It is true that we spend the majority of our time with the people that we work with, but it doesn’t mean we have to be the best of friends. Any job I start I maintain this approach to keep work and my social life separate. Some people get upset because when they ask me about how my weekend was I simply say, “It was fine,” and leave it at that. That is all the information I feel needs to be given and I shouldn’t be made to feel like an outcast because I don’t want to discuss every aspect of my life.

People usually will find someone they become friends with at work or a click that they hang out with during lunch, but it is not mandatory. Being polite, keeping to yourself and doing your work is all that matters. All the friendship stuff can be a waste of time and end up with you being in the middle of office politics or drama. It amazes me how many work places are more like high school cafeterias with the amount of gossip and back biting that goes around. I rather be seen as anti-social and keep to myself then trying to be the cool person at work.

Business and pleasure usually don’t mix well and this is especially true in the work place. You should never feel pressured to share more information about your life than you have to with people that you work with. If they want to call you boring that is fine because your REAL friends know the truth.

  • Ocean Blue

    From my experience, the people who ask, “How was your weekend” only do so, so that they can brag/talk about about theirs.

  • binks

    I’ am the same way. But then again I’ am reserved and super private to those other than my friends and family anyway. Besides, the field I’ am in is very competitive lately so I tend to keep the co-workers and not friends motto in mind even more so because I don’t want drama or hurt feelings

  • Carol

    I think it’s perfectly fine to want to keep your two worlds completely separate, but I think people should be aware that this behavior will make it very difficult to move up in your career. While the desire to protect very personal details (who you’re dating, family issues, whatever) should definitely be respected, getting upset with small talk is definitely detrimental to your career.

    The author says she doesn’t want to be considered an outcast, but is doing so to herself by drawing such hard lines. I do understand that not everyone is interested in climbing the career ladder, but I think this attitude can hurt a person in so many other ways. Those coworkers could expose you to something new and fulfilling, or may introduce you to your future spouse. Or they may even be able to help you get out of a tough situation someday. So yeah, we are all entitled to share however much we want… I just don’t think this is a path that should be lauded.

  • http://method2hermadness.blogspot.com girlformerlyknownasgrace

    I dont know…right now i work in a place where msot people are the same age. I think age factors in when making friends at work. We relate better because we are the same ages. Also, i am the only Black person on my team– which is primarily Hispanic. Culture kind of factors in as well. Sometimes they say things in Spanish or make references to things in Spanish culture that I can not relate to.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    I’ve always had the mentality, I am here to do the best job I can to the best of my ability not make friends-I have enough. I’ll be cordial, but don’t expect for us to be best friends. Nope!

  • Chox

    I think its all relative. The culture of my firm is one that promotes socializing among its employees. It’s pretty hard to avoid making friends there. Some of those relationships have been conduits to my career progression. I think it can be tricky to keep things and people in perspective, but ultimately a smart balance is ideal.

  • shimmyya

    Carol, you are dead on. I worked in advertising for years and made it pretty high up the ladder (VP), but I got stuck there, and because I hadn’t worked to solidify any real “alliances,” no one really had my back. Sure work is work, but politics and personal preference can’t help to sneak in.

    There’s a fine line to walk, but you definitely have to let people see who you are, or at least let them see an appropriately edited version of yourself.

  • chinaza

    I agree that we must set professional/personal limits but it’s not enough to be just polite, isolate yourself and do the work.
    As an adult you’re expected to have developed appropriate interpersonal skills which factor into team dynamics and career advancement. Moreso, if you deal with clients.The degree to which you apply this depends on the job you do. But never under-estimate the “human factor”
    When you understand that we all need consideration and compromise at some point, you learn and you grow.
    Don’t shortchange yourself. A smile,a sense of humor and a friendly greeting go a long way.

  • CatchACase

    She may very well be intersexed. Biological gender (and gender expression) exist on a spectrum. Why to preoccupation with MALE/FEMALE binary?

  • http://www.noirmuse.com caribbelle

    Boy do I know that irritating feeling but I’ve learned to defer such coworkers.

    It’s extremely relative to each work environment, but its absolutely necessary to set boundaries. Some coworkers are entirely too brazen, but there are polite ways for them to get the point that their being invasive. I used to get annoyed and huffy when I was younger but I realized it wasn’t worth the energy. Some folks are just plain nosy lol! That’s where boundaries come in.

    I’ll admit, I’m not always partial to small talk (especially when I’m busy), but I’ve learned its value in the workplace. I’ve had to learn the art of aimless chatting that reveals nothing I consider private, and redirects the conversation. People feel like they get to know me better without knowing my “business”. It’s a give and take. Sometimes it isn’t just about how well you work but who you know that can get you places.

  • overseas_honeybee

    All great points on both sides but I find I do have a problem when that “small talk” lasts 20-30 minutes (happens easily in my office) and prevents me from getting my work done and I end up having to stay late or hear some sob story about the same thing over and over or listen at how frustrated you are with management.

    I learned to limit it and my co-workers know it.

  • http://pervertedalchemist.blogspot.com/ Perverted Alchemist

    If there is one thing I learned the hard way, it’s this: Never befriend a co-worker. That’s how trouble starts and how rumors get spread in the workplace.

  • Mocha

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Lol! I have come to realize that people (old and young) just need people to talk to. I have some people at work who don’t like me because I don’t share my personal life story with them. Nor do I inquire about theirs, to them that comes off as being a mean individual. One co-worker would call me after work hours and I had to explain to her that my personal phone is not for her personal use to call whenever she deems necessary. When I’m home with my family, there is no need for you to call me. I’ve learned to keep the “chit-chatting” down with co-workers…you just can never be too sure.

  • Tami

    Interesting article…I get the author’s point, however, without knowing her, I do think she probaly comes across as antisocial. I have learned how to put a pretty smile on my face & talk about the weather, or something generic when asked about the weekend, such as going to a concert & in return inquiring about my coworker’s weekend also. Human beings are not machines. I don’t reveal real personal info to people such as breaking up with my boyfriend or having money problems. But I can talk about Dancing with the Stars or a hot TV show, or something going on in the news. I just think its a nice thing to do.

  • OSHH

    I keep it cordial, light, and professional, the details of my private life are just that, private.

  • MC

    Yeah same here. You can still be friendly and strike up generic conversation about current events or the latest TV show without getting too personal or revealing your whole life story.

  • B.Payne

    This is true but you can still be cordial and share basic information, the kind that won’t raise eyebrows or cause conflicts in the workplace.

    Ppl in my office know I’m from Chicago and I love films…that’s it…they don’t know about the creative life that I’m using this job to nurture for. They don’t know exactly why I left Chicago to come to NY but when they ask, my response is always “start a new life” which is a blanket statement because it’s true.

    I always get asked about my weekend and like the author, I’ll say it was great and i’ll add how nice the weather was or speak about something I read in the newspaper which will start the other person about their weekend and you don’t have to explain anything else.

  • chanela

    I was just sorta thinking about this. i’m kinda the opposite though. i work at a place where everybody is 18-24 and i feel really bad and left out when i look on facebook and almost every coworker is tagged at some restaurant,club,or theme park except for me. people i talk to all day long and we have lots in common but nobody ever invites me anywhere. not saying they are entitled to invite me places just cause we converse all day, but it really does suck when everybody including managers go out and have fun except you. what makes things worse is that memos RARELY go out about new changes. everybody tells new policies through word of mouth. naturally everybody hangs out with each other and will know new stuff, except me. i’m always the very last person to find out things and i think its unprofessional as hell.

  • chanela

    Oh yeah! there is also favoritism up the ass where i work! the managers would send their “friends” to food places or starbucks on the clock and chit chat in the back for up to 45 minutes while there is a help needed with long lines and such. oh but me? i have a short 3 minute conversation on a slow day when there is not one customer there for 3 hours, and here come those same managers telling me “don’t you have work to do? you can talk after work”. SMH thank god im putting in my 2 week notice next month.

  • http://twitter.com/cantfoolthewise Frank Cohen (@cantfoolthewise)

    We all got to learn that I was fired almost because I thought I could trust someone. Now I keep my business to myself and I am not having drama no more. I do not give coworkers rides in my car or lend them money because I am at work to make a living not be used by people that could get me fired. Business and personal do not mix.

  • commonsense

    It is commonsense to keep your professional separate from personal because some people will use your information to keep you from climbing the latter. I read a article about co workers a friend today is a foe tomorrow. Keep in mind everyone has bills to pay and you can only expect people to put themselves first.

  • notnow1

    I agree with one of the posters who stated: “I have come to realize that people just need people to talk to.”

    That is absolutely true!!! Most people do it just to fill the void of being bored or just to kill time. From experience, I see many coworkers gossiping about other coworkers all the time and that is definitely not a good thing….so I tend to keep to myself and not share too much. One of the team leads at my job said I was anti social, honestly I don’t care, because I know I have my reason. I do not come to work to make friends nor do I come to work to gossip or cause drama. I have way more better things to do with my time. Some people will always have that high school mentality and want you to ride along with them.

  • http://ellemk.wordpress.com LorriK

    So, I have a question about this. It seems that the boundaries we keep sometimes hinder us from fostering enough of a relationship to move up in the job place. I wonder if our “private” I don’t share too much info can backfire at times in a negative way? I believe in keeping it to myself, but I also learned that being too distant creates imagery that you may not be a team player or friendly enough.

  • Rebecca

    Thank you!!! I like to do my job then go home! And that’s how I like it! I like to focus and do a good job not discuss what I’m doing on my day off or what kind of music I like. My job is a high school everyone thinks I’m shy or quiet no it’s because I’m actually doing my job instead of bitching out another employee. I work so I can enjoy my time and money outside of work not make friends. I’m actually considering leaving I can’t stand it with the questionnaires anymore their loss I actually like to do my job.

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