Take a moment to imagine yourself at seven years old. Walking outside on the playground, the smell of freshly mowed grass fills your nostrils. The sun shines on the metal slide and monkey bars. Squeals and laughter can be heard all around. You are thinking about your latest gymnastic moves as you run toward the monkey bars. Other girls are playing at the bars as well. You overhear one of the girls describing how her teacher taught her gymnastics. You ask, “Can you do a backflip without holding the bars?” At that moment, a friendship begins.
Wasn’t it easy back then? A question like, “Can I play?” was all it took to start a friendship. As a child, you weren’t worried about starting a conversation, not having enough time, or even that she had too many friends around. Ah, life was so simple then.
Throughout your life, chances are you have encountered moments where you wanted to make a new friend but weren’t sure you had the time, skills, or confidence to do so. You may have asked yourself, “How am I supposed to balance work, family, and friends?” There’s already enough on my plate. Does friendship really matter that much?
Friends Make You Happier Overall
Having friends gives you a sense of belonging, reduces loneliness, and makes you happier overall, according to an article published in the journal of Personal Relationships1. The health benefits of having friends are now well documented. According to R.I .Dunbar2, having friends can help you avoid mental and physical illness, recover faster from surgery or illness, and make you more happy and content with your life. According to him, having good friends reduces your risk of dying more than anything else, except stopping smoking! One reason for the benefit is when you engage in bonding activities with your friends (like hugs, laughter, singing, dinner), you “…up-regulate the endorphin system2…”(Chopik, 2017).
Since you spend about a third of your life at work, it stands to reason that you’d make friends there. Friendships at work, however, can be challenging. According to Julia Pillemer and Nancy P. Rothbard of the University of Pennsylvania3, workplace friendships can have a dark side. The goals of the workplace and those of friends often clash. When we reveal ourselves and show vulnerability, it can backfire and create interpersonal distance. You may become concerned about stepping on someone’s toes in your goal to advance. Favoritism and cliques may also be problems.
The Darkside of the Workplace
A darker side lurks within the workplace as well. Remember the up-regulated endorphin system that happens when you are bonding? Simon Sinek wrote in his book “Leaders Eat Last” that endorphins are down-regulated in many corporate environments4.
Most jobs require you to meet deadlines and to meet a quota. Bonuses are awarded to the best performers. There is nothing wrong with competition. However, the problem is that unrealistic goals and excessive pressure can lead to everyone looking out for themselves. So what does that have to do with your endorphin system and friendship? In a word, everything.
Here’s what happens to your body when you’re in a toxic and competitive environment. It begins innocently enough with the promise of receiving a much-needed bonus. With the thought of earning this bonus, adrenaline and endorphins surge through you. The excitement is palpable. Dopamine is released in the brain upon achieving your goal. It seems as if everything is going according to plan at first, but things start to change. Perhaps you are experiencing a strain at home, making work difficult. This causes your cortisol levels to rise and never go down. Over time, high levels of cortisol and adrenaline interfere with the production of serotonin. You no longer feel happy. Consequently, you become withdrawn from others. As you become more withdrawn from others, your oxytocin levels drop. Eventually, the imbalance of chemicals may lead to anxiety or depression. A cycle like this is bad for your health AND for your friendships.
Three Types of Friendships
How do you foster connection and manage workplace tension? Let’s start by discussing the different types of friendships. There are three types of friendships: coffee, tacos, and spaghetti friends. With coffee friends, you can make small talk freely. There’s no problem meeting them for coffee and chatting about surface-level topics. Then, there are those taco friends. You can confide in them some of your messier parts, but you still don’t share everything with them. Lastly is the spaghetti friend. These are the friends who have seen your worst side. You can turn to them when life takes a turn for the worse. You can trust them and they will have your back.
We have difficulties because of our misunderstandings with our friends. Sometimes, you share things with a coffee friend that should only be shared with a taco friend. A coffee friend, not able to handle your sensitive information, makes a hash of it. Your first reaction is to wall up and say to yourself your coffee friend is no friend at all. The truth is, she is still your friend. She is just a coffee friend. Go back to small talk. You can have a spirited discussion about shoes, the latest gossip, or whatever interests both of you. Save the more sensitive stuff for your taco friends or spaghetti friends. Since it can sometimes be inappropriate to share intimate details about one’s life or opinions with office colleagues, coffee friends are more likely to form at work. Just be open to making room for taco and spaghetti friends in your life.
We All Need Friends
Occasionally, you find that your friends remain with you for a lifetime while sometimes they are just temporary. Friends can bring comfort, wisdom, and direction, regardless of their type or length of friendship. It’s important to manage workplace tensions in order to achieve successful friendships at work, say Julianna Pillemer and Nancy P. Rothbard3. Building a successful friendship at any level requires managing tensions and trial and error. The bottom line is, we all need friends. Does it make sense to make a friend despite the risk and effort? Yes. Your health will benefit from it.
At Every Girl Living, we know relationships are important. We even devoted a podcast episode about friendship called, “What Everyone Should Know About Friendships” (You can listen to it by clicking the button below). We’ve designed events and services to build a community of women. We want it to be for you to meet new people. You can attend Soul Bourn, our women’s empowerment group, Glow Flow Yoga, our Open Studio, or other events. Please click the button to check out our event and class calendar. You can also contact us to set up a free 30-minute consultation call.
1Chopik, W., 2017. Associations among relational values, support, health, and well-being across the adult lifespan. Personal Relationships, 24(2), pp.408-422.
2Dunbar, R., 2018. The Anatomy of Friendship. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22(1), pp.32-51.
3Pillemer, J. and Rothbard, N., 2018. Friends Without Benefits: Understanding the Dark Sides of Workplace Friendship. Academy of Management Review, 43(4), pp.635-660.
4Sinek, S., 2019. Leaders eat last. New York: Penguin Group.
Tracy, Those are great swaps! I love that your meals take less than 30 minutes.
Thanks for sharing these ideas! I sub in zoodles for my pasta. For a quick, yummy meal, I get the…