How do I form lasting relationships with coworkers?
December 3, 2011 7:42 AM   Subscribe

How do I form lasting relationships with my coworkers?

I'm very lucky to work in a small start-up as a designer with some people I think are really incredibly intelligent, and I feel extremely lucky to know them and benefit from their knowledge.

I'm young (19) so I can't really go out to the bar with them after work, what are good ways of learning more from and about them?
posted by ejfox to Human Relations (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ask them out for coffee or lunch. Ask them how they got to where they are, and what you need to do to be in their shoes 10 years from now.

(Note: a lot of people think this is tacky or self-serving. They're wrong. Most people are flattered and want to help others get their start)
posted by mostly vowels at 7:45 AM on December 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also: what kind of startup is it?
posted by grouse at 7:47 AM on December 3, 2011

Are you more worried about forming "lasting relationships" or "learning more from and about them"? The former is trickier, I think. For the latter, go with what mostly vowels and grouse said: ask them to lunch. Ask them about their stories and whether they have any advice for you.

Also, be friendly at work always.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:55 AM on December 3, 2011

A context to relate to them outside of works helps a lot. I'll be hiking tomorrow with a group of people who worked together back in the '90s, and a few who've joined later. Sometimes regular conferences help for this, too.
posted by straw at 7:59 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I supervise and train a lot of first-time employees in their very early 20s, so what I'll say is informed by my experience. The best thing you can do is ask questions, genuinely listen, and do what you say you'll do. If you're interested in something a colleague is doing, by all means, ask them about it (when they're available, of course). Ask them how they learned it, usually other questions will pop up for you spontaneously. People love being asked that sort of thing by someone who clearly wants to listen! The rest tends to go from there.

From the way you word your question – appreciative of others' intelligence and experience – it sounds like you'll be A-OK. Sometimes it can be helpful to know why seemingly simple things like asking questions, listening, and doing you work are good... it's because it can be rare. Nearly all of the new hires I've trained have come into it without asking me a single thing. Really. Nothing. Not even how long I've had my job. When I show them how proprietary systems work, systems that no one outside of the company can possibly know, many will tell me "oh, pshaw! I already know that! We learned it at school." Not so convincing when I then ask them to do a run-of-the-mill task and they can't. Then the "this is boring, I want a sales or management position" talk begins. But everyone's in the same boat, sales and management have their own "boring" tasks too, and if they'd just realize that, plus how we're there to help, everyone would be happier. Like I said, your question does not make you sound that way! Just offering a point of comparison so you can better appreciate how and why. Listening really is wonderful.
posted by fraula at 8:32 AM on December 3, 2011

(Ms. Vegetable):
So I intentionally do not "hang out" with my coworkers. I want to keep that separate from the rest of my life.
That said, you might benefit from a mentor relationship. Ask your boss, or ask a person you'd like to mentor you. Or maybe ask if you can shadow other jobs; couch it in "personal development" when your boss asks you for your personal enrichment plan (or whatever other BS they use) next year.
Or, if it's really informal, lunch. Coffee one-on-one.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:45 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Meals are a good bet, especially at a startup where there might be opportunities for dinner as well as lunch. See if they might consider bringing the bar in-house on a Friday evening or something so they can still unwind with a beer, but you can still attend.

In a lot of west coast (tech/web) startups, mentoring relationships often co-develop as simple friendships. I don't know the culture of startups in general in your location, nor what kind of startup you're at, but is it possible for you to approach this as making working friends?
posted by asciident at 9:04 AM on December 3, 2011

I'm not sure about the laws in NY, but in a lot (maybe most?) states these days bars are also restaurants, and usually under 21 are fine being there until maybe 9 PM or so. If bar and restaurant are really two very different things in NY, you could also ask if they could occasionally pick a place that you can get into. Something like a Fridays or Applebee's will be no problem for you, and although they may lack in ambiance or hipster-approved status, they do have full bars, and usually happy hour specials anywhere they law allows it.
posted by COD at 9:13 AM on December 3, 2011

Things I have done that have helped cement friendships with co-workers include:

Travelling with them (on work-related trips to Bangalore and Munich).
Going sailing with them (this only works if you are or work with a sailor, but it doesn't have to be sailing).
Going surfing with them (it's a hobby I found that I share with anther co-worker).
Flying model airplanes with them (similar to surfing).
Carpooling with them (gives you lots of time to talk).
Going out to meals with them (lunch almost everyday).
Inviting them over to my house for parties.
Being invited to their houses for parties.

I haven't done all these things with all my co-workers, but I've done several of them with most of my favorite co-workers.

Your friends are the people you spend the most time with. If you want to be better friends with someone, spend more time talking to him or her. You can do this through any sort of activity you like, it doesn't have to be at a bar. You will "form lasting relationships" with people you spend a lot of time with, and you mutually enjoy that time. It will be harder to form lasting relationships that are based around you learning from someone else -- what incentive does a more senior co-worker have to keep in touch with you after he leaves the company if his only interactions with you, even if they were positive, were through you asking him to teach you things?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:43 AM on December 3, 2011

Depends what you mean with lasting relationships. I have good relationships with my coworkers and when I leave or they leave we tend to stay in touch loosely over things like Facebook, or by making sure you know how to contact them. There's nothing wrong with sending the occasional email or posting on somebody's wall. And that's certainly enough to keep these people as your professional network. If you stay in the same organisation but just move around it is even easier. You use the internal messaging system to stay in touch easily and you can meet up at training events etc. So you can easily maintain these people in your network and have a great basis for future co-operation by doing little other than being somebody people enjoy working with and being good at your job and putting a little effort into 'hi, long time no hear, how are you, thought you'd find this interesting" kind of stuff. No need at all to extend this into your personal life, unless you want to build friendships with these people as opposed to professional relationships.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:23 AM on December 3, 2011

To a certain extent you will be at the whim of their personal wants/office culture.

Some people don't want to mix business and friendship - others think it's great. So it's not something you can force.

Mentorship or similar is a great thing, but again, not everyone's up for it for a variety of reasons.

But generally ask questions and listen - be interested in what they do.
posted by mleigh at 2:42 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and on keeping in touch with them for the next mumbledy-mumble decades: The ex-Pixar email list hasn't had all that much traffic (and may be broken right now), but I'm told by people on the ex-NeXT list that it is an amazing resource. Similarly, I have a mailing list of people who were involved in another venture two decades ago, occasionally someone will vouch for an addition to that list, and it can be a great resource.

Given that I've been involved in one such mailing list that worked and another that didn't, I don't know what the key is, but that could be a good resource if several of you leave around the same time...
posted by straw at 12:32 PM on December 5, 2011

« Older Online Resources for Academics?   |   help me get back into console gaming! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.