Are Friendship Rules Creating Problems for You at Work?

Do you regularly talk about your relationship expectations, or friendship rules, with women colleagues at work? If you are like most of us, you don’t; thus misunderstandings and disappointments can develop. But problems like these can be avoided if you follow these tips:

Become aware of your friendship rules. We all have expectations about how others are supposed to behave. We start developing our friendship rules at a very young age, though they are different for girls and boys because of our socialization. By the time we are adults, they have become embedded in us as a set of filters, but, for the most part, we are no longer conscious of them. Most of us cannot say what our friendship rules are, but we carry them with us into the workplace.

We interpret the behavior of other women at work and decide whether or not we trust or like them, along with a range of other possibilities, through the filters of our friendship expectations. Become conscious, or aware, of your friendship expectations by talking with a close friend to identify similarities and differences about what you expect from a friend and from each other. You may be surprised at what you learn.

Talk with a coworker. Find a peer with whom you work well and discuss what you each expect from a good relationship with a woman at work. Then explore your expectations of each other as friendly coworkers. Start this conversation by sharing what you appreciate about the relationship and explaining that you want to make it even stronger by your getting to know each other better. Share your expectations of each other and write them down for future reference and reflection.

Talk with a woman in a different role or at a different level. Choose someone in the organization with whom you have a good relationship. Begin by acknowledging what you appreciate about your work relationship. Be specific concerning what you are aware of about how you both manage your role or level differences. For example, do you verbalize your differences with comments like, “There are things I can’t share with you because they’re confidential,” or “I know you do things differently in your department, but let’s talk about how we will work together well”? Agree about how you will handle disagreements and the like as you move forward.

Consider the possibility that you have different friendship rules. When you have tension with someone at work, you may have disappointed each other in some way. Discuss what your expectations of each other are in order to find the path forward.

Talking with others about your friendship rules can avoid misunderstandings and strengthen relationships. Try it. It may seem awkward at first, but it will have great rewards.

By Anne Litwin, PhD
Photo by Diego Cervo | Shutterstock

Anne Litwin is the author of New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together and owner of Anne Litwin and Associates.


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