by Diane Gage Lofgren
Don’t mix work and pleasure. While that axiom can and should make us cautious, many women find some of their best and most lasting friendships in the work or professional setting. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t need to know our boundaries nor can we be blind to the fact that what we say and do outside of work can jeopardize our careers and reputations.
Linda DaSilva, RPh., a pharmaceutical leader is a friend of mine from the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, a professional organization dedicated to advancing women in health care. As a single woman, Linda says her professional friends are like her Golden Girls…she shares both resources and a social life with them!“I don’t want to be in isolation,” Linda affirms. “I’ve always had a full life and perhaps because I’m single, I’ve kept in close touch with many friends including a few of my college sorority sisters. Gratefully, I have so many strong professional and personal relationships with the HBA women that they have become my adult sorority sisters and extended family. When careers evolve or positions are downsized, these female friends are engaged and supportive. We confirm each other on the emotional roller coaster of interviewing and rejections. We make phone or email introductions to sponsor one another and offer advice and perspective. I would have been in therapy without the women of the HBA!
This year, Linda had three lunches with past HBA Women of the Year to offer and receive perspective and advice.
“These women are similar to me, and we just resonated so eloquently with each other. While I meet other women in my building or at events, to me there’s nothing like women who are on a similar life journey to understand and support you!”
So how do you cement true friendships with your female colleagues? How do you watch out for pitfalls that could harm both your work and professional lives?
1. Test Trust. Like any friendship, trust must be earned. Share a little of yourself at a time. Reveal a small amount of information and see how it lands and where it goes. If she is genuinely supportive of your victories and confidentially holds your confidences, you can reveal a little more next time.
2. Earn Bragging and Dumping Rights. Be careful about spilling your troubles or reveling in your successes to someone you don’t know well yet. This isn’t your sister or mother. The more time you spend with your colleague, the more you’ll be able to gauge how supportive she is or if professional envy is coming into play. Talk about a small victory and see how it goes. Mention a troublesome situation and witness if she offers valuable perspective and insight.
3. Gauge your mutual commitment. Friendships can’t be one sided. If a professional friend is all ears but doesn’t share both her good and bad times, you may not want to move any closer. Or if she is always talking and never listening, there may be an imbalance. You will come away empty and exhausted when you feel like you are always giving and never receiving, and vice versa.
4. Articulate boundaries. As you grow closer, let your work friend know what you just can’t share or talk about. Discuss the kind of confidences you just can’t break. If she gets angry or upset, you are mismatched as work friends.
5. Expand your repertoire. If your friendship is blooming inside the professional setting, take a small step to expand your levels of interest. Invite your work friend for coffee and a walk on a Saturday. Attend a play you’ve both wanted to see one night. Extend your conversation beyond work. You can be real and still be professional. It’s crucial to remember that if you work for the same organization (be it consultant or employee), what you do and say outside of work can get back to those at work and impact your career. All the world is a stage!
While navigating friendships made at work may have different operating rules, these women really get you. They know where and how you spend most of your waking hours during the week. They know the players. They feel the pressure. They understand the pitfalls and peaks. It’s as if you can talk in shorthand.
Can friends and work mix? They absolutely can with a certain amount of caution and plain old common sense. Like anything in life, the investment you make will pay off. And, you’ll have women who can both start and finish your sentences!