How do you make friends at work?
December 8, 2008 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I have a number of co-workers that I'd like to get to know better and become friends with if they're interested. We're friendly at work, but it's never gone farther than that, and I don't know how to try to move towards a real friendship. Any suggestions?

They seem like really great people and we get along well at work, and I don't have many friends in my city so I'd love to figure out how to make friends with some of these folks. But because we've already been co-workers for awhile (anywhere between a few months and nearly two years), I'm struggling with how to change the established dynamics without things being too awkward. (For example, it seems like standard advice is to ask a co-worker to get lunch together, but that feels weird to me if in all this time we've never really done it before, other than on people's birthdays. Or we sometimes do big everyone's-invited Happy Hours, but having drinks after work with a smaller circle of people would definitely be new.) Anyway, I'm probably overthinking this, but I'm pretty socially anxious (and socially awkward!) so I'd appreciate some help figuring out my best next steps.

Feel free to skip the questions and just offer general advice about making friends with co-workers, but here are some specific questions I have:

1) Are there intermediate steps to move closer towards friendship or should I go straight to inviting them to get together outside the office? We stop by eachothers' desks and chat sometimes, but maybe only once every week or two-- should I be trying to increase the frequency of those conversations first? (The trouble is that we're all pretty busy most of the time!) I'm friends with most of them on Facebook but we haven't messaged each other there at all--- should I try to do that first?
2) Once I start asking people to get together, any suggestions of particular things that would be the most natural to do? Is it better to start with lunch/coffee/drinks on a work day rather than something on a weekend? For a weekend thing, is an activity better (and if so, are some things better than others?) or getting lunch or dinner? etc... or do you think it doesn't much matter?
3) Do you think it's better to try to ask folks individually to get together outside work, or e-mail a handful of folks at once with invitations of the "I'm going to do X this weekend, anyone want to come" type? (I'm leaning towards the latter, but I don't know if that's just my own fear of making myself vulnerable to being turned down by a given individual.)
4) One thing I've thought of is hosting a party and inviting a bunch of people. But this is complicated by the fact that I've never really hosted a party since my college days a few years ago (or been invited to many), so I don't know what's appropriate. For example, my birthday's coming up, and it seems like some people host parties for their own birthdays-- that just seems strange to me, but is it a relatively normal thing to do and a good opportunity I should seize? (Also, is it weird to have a party full of not-quite-friends-yet? Especially a birthday party? I only have a couple real friends living in my city right now.)
5) Is there anything I could be doing related to the holiday season to help move in the right direction? Should/could I give cards or little/simple/casual presents (or does that make things awkward if they feel like they ought to reciprocate)?

And one last, broader question... I keep thinking that if these people liked me enough to want to be friends with me, they'd have invited me to lunch/drinks/parties/activities already, and so I'd be awkwardly crossing boundaries (and ignoring an implied message of "no, we're just work friends") to push it after this length of time. Do you think that's generally true? Or do you think that there's a reasonable possibility some of them would still be open to being friends?
posted by EmilyClimbs to Human Relations (15 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Happy hour, happy hour, happy hour. Invite everybody to a happy hour. If it's successful, make it a regular thing.

And if it's not, you might have your "last, broader question" answered.
posted by General Malaise at 12:26 PM on December 8, 2008

1) Yes, invite them to get together outside of the office. Throw a party or something and invite them all along with some of your non-work friends. Or what General Malaise suggested: Happy Hour.

2) It doesn't much matter if you already see each other every day as is. But if you're afraid to make that leap, why not suggest everyone have lunch together one day?

3) Email everybody. If you select a few individuals, someone will feel left out. Don't worry about rejection. That's why you mix in a few of your non-work friends.

4) I just did exactly this. I hosted a birthday party for myself (it's totally normal) and invited a healthy mix of work people and non-work people. It was a small-to-medium gathering, and it was a lot of fun. I just made a bunch of food and told everyone to bring whatever they like to eat/drink if they wanted to. I was still cooking when the earlybirds showed up, so that helped out with that awkward, "Okaaaay, what do we talk about now?" period. Once everyone else showed up, conversation flowed easily, and I didn't even have to entertain.

5) I like to give out little gift bags of candy and little gift to everyone. I make it something fun like a cheesy party favor, and these bags are usually a big hit. I don't think you have to do this to get closer to your coworkers, but it does show you're making an effort.

As for your broader question, no. You can't think like that. Not everybody is outgoing and even some people that are outgoing may not approach someone else who isn't, simply because they don't want to be rejected anymore than you don't. Just make the effort. I bet it will be easier than you think, and if it doesn't work out well the first time, try again.
posted by katillathehun at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would start by asking them to lunch. Just ask a lot.
posted by xammerboy at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2008

after work drinks.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 12:53 PM on December 8, 2008

Nthing happy hour/after work cocktails. Every place I've worked there was always someone who would announce "hey, it's been a rough day, who wants to get together at XXXX after work?" and those who wanted to mingle and unwind would attend.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:06 PM on December 8, 2008

Are these people friends already, or are you hitting a bunch of different little pockets?
posted by seagull.apollo at 1:11 PM on December 8, 2008

We started a lunch club at work. It was an established department with existing friendships etc. but the suggestion went over very well. Now, every Friday, we explore the local restaurant scene, even the sketchy ones (better stories). Great food, conversation and new friends have emerged. Some people attend, some don't, but its all good.

Board game nights go over well with a certain crowd. And, its the perfect time of year to make that kind of suggestion. Group activities can ease some of the initial social burden. Plus, it gives you time to find the individuals you have even more in common with.

Also, the more you talk about your hobbies and interest the more you will be on co-workers radar. If you talk about how you were cleaning up in an online poker game then the next time someone is short for a person at their home game they will think "Oh, EmilyClimbs mentioned they love poker, I can ask them."
posted by pixlboi at 1:30 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Could you form a lunch/after work interest group of some sort, and just invite the people you really like to join? It's a kind of pretense, but a nice one.
posted by amtho at 1:31 PM on December 8, 2008

"Invite everybody to a happy hour." "Email everybody. If you select a few individuals, someone will feel left out."

The problem with inviting absolutely everyone to something (besides the fact that there are a lot of us at my job and even just in my department) is that it sends the message "I am being a social planner for the whole group" and not "I like you and want to be friends with you, if you're interested then please do something to reciprocate and we can start building this friendship" (which is kind of where I'm trying to get.) We already do happy hours where the whole department's invited every month or two... they're fun, and I have friendly conversations with folks during them, but at the end I'm back where I started, with co-workers I'm friendly but not friends with. How do I get from those conversations to a friendship?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 2:33 PM on December 8, 2008

I frequently have lunch with and have even gone out for drinks with various coworkers several times. However I only have one friend who has successfully transitioned from "work friend" to "actual friend." It started when she invited me to her birthday party and not very many people showed up and she and her boyfriend and me and my husband ended up talking all night and it worked out great. So definitely try the birthday party thing.

Also, you could try what one of my coworkers has done. He's started having an annual "Friends and Family Dinner" at a local restaurant where he invites a bunch of selected people from work and asks them to meet up for dinner on a Saturday and bring a friend or family member with. This is the second year I've been invited and I'm planning to go this time.

The important thing to remember about social anxiety is that almost everyone else has it too, even though they seem to have their shit together and you don't.
posted by threeturtles at 2:36 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

In my experience, most people don't really judge you for a bit of social awkwardness, especially if it's because you are being kind and open and friendly and show genuine interest in getting to know them. In fact, it can even be endearing. Instead of worrying about the social awkwardness that inevitably comes with trying to take any relationship to a step further, you should just go ahead, be friendly and have fun. Here are some pointers:

- Tell people you like them if you do, and that you enjoying talking with them, and you wish you had more time to get to know them.
- Survey: try to find out what the general feel is: "I wish we could have a short coffee break each Friday at 3 when it just becomes almost unbearable", and see what everyone thinks. Or, "damn, that movie looks really interesting".
- If you want to go for lunch, drinks or whatever, ask a person you feel closest to who is the same sex as you if you're straight, and opposite if you're gay. That way, they won't think you're hitting on them. After you make tentative plans, you can ask everyone else by saying, "Melanie and I are going for lunch, you wanna come too?".
- Invite often, invite all the time, invite, invite, invite! Even if there is something happening in a month that you're not sure you'll be attending, just put the idea forward in passing conversation, "I love that band's music, they're really awesome live and they're coming to town next month, we should totally go".
- Try planning stuff for week-days. Most people plan ahead for the weekend, or have a close circle of friends they rather spend time with. Weekdays are less busy and the perfect time for making new friends.

Of course, I understand that everyone is different. But what works the best for me is getting close to one other person first. When it's two of you, it's always easier to invite everyone else and expand. Conversation flows easier, and there are less awkward moments. If there is a person you're closer with, or is a bit more social than others, or has more in common with you, start there. You'd be surprised how open most people are to making new friends.

Good luck!
posted by shamble at 7:06 PM on December 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

Hit them where their hobbies are. "Oh, you like thrift shopping? I know this great little place off Moreland. We should go sometime. How about Saturday?" Or oh, you like barbeque? Or skeet shooting? Or whatever. You get the picture.
posted by hazyjane at 11:09 PM on December 8, 2008

In my experience the transition generally goes...

"I'm going to [Store] to grab lunch, you want me to bring you something back?"

"I'm going to [Cheap Restaurant] for lunch, you wanna come?"

"After a day like that I could use a beer. You in?"

"Hey, I hear [band/show/comedian] is going to be in town next month. Interested?"

At which point it either remains at the same level forever (work friends) or escalates into rambling phone calls, hanging out for no reason in particular and helping them move (real friends).
posted by the latin mouse at 6:05 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Organise a long lunch on a Friday. A Chinese Yum Cha (or banquet) type thing. Xmas is a perfect excuse. Invite everybody. Repeat
posted by lamby at 7:49 AM on December 9, 2008

i haven't read through all of the answers here (just skimmed them) so if i am repeating someone's answers, my apologies.

1) if intermediate steps will help you feel more comfortable - say, you feel like asking them to hang out after work might be a 'big step' - do those first. perhaps a wall post on Facebook. "hey Jill - i heard that [name of previously discussed actor] is going to be on [talk show] tomorrow. thought you'd want to know!" bring up something you have discussed before so your wall post feels purposeful (not just a "hey Jill, how's it going?" message, which may appear strange after being Facebook friends for 6 months with no Facebook interactions). this way, you are showing that you listen well and are thoughtful, and who doesn't want a thoughtful friend who listens?

2) i would start with a workday thing. maybe lunch, then maybe drinks after work (happy hour seems to be a popular suggestion by previous posters), or maybe even, "i'm planning to see [big, blockbuster movie] tonight. it's getting great reviews. want to go?" if you want to do a weekend thing with people from work, you should plan it in advance. i find that people make weekend plans 1-2 weekends in advance (myself included). you could bring it up with a few acquaintances throughout the week. "so i'm thinking of attending [event] next weekend, and i'm wondering if anyone from here wants to go. are you up for it?"

3) i would try both approaches.

4) you may be able to pull off a party if you do it as a "let's get to know each other" type mixer, but i'm with you -- throwing one's own birthday party seems weird, and if the idea of hosting a get together seems stressful, just hanging out with people/a person should be fine. no need to throw a huge bash.

5) little presents may still be 'too much' if you work with a lot of people, but a small card for each person is a nice thought... or even just walking around with homemade baked goods! i bring baked treats to wherever it is i am working every holiday season and it's always a big hit.

finally, to answer your broader question, i don't think it's true that they would have invited you to something already if they wanted to be friends with you. maybe this workplace isn't as organized in terms of social events. maybe there are pockets of 1-2 people who are friends, but it never occurred to them to expand their little groups. test the waters. if people are interested in hanging out, hang out with them. if they're not, join a volunteer group or join the gym. there are plenty of places to meet people.

best of luck!!
posted by gursky at 4:50 PM on December 9, 2008

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