Finding and Developing your Work BFF

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Finding and Developing your Work BFF!

Corrine has been my best friend for over 30 years. We first met in high school, then went to college together and we now live around the corner from each other. We couldn’t be more different and that is why we work. I am loud and boisterous; Corrine is reserved and calm. I am career focused in the office and Corrine is career focused at home. I have many passions that fill my days and Corrine is selective on how she spends her time. Bottom line…we are very different people but we have one thing in common. We strive to make each other be better people. To this day, Corrine is my mirror to remind me who I am, what I am capable of and to believe in myself.  This doesn’t come in the form of big speeches but rather in the small moments when you need it the most.  You see, Corrine notices when I start to slip into a downward spiral of self-doubt and that is when her friendship, wise words and the push on the back to leap forward are the most impactful.

Now…imagine if you had that kind of friendship at work???

I am lucky because I have a work BFF too. I didn’t know that I needed one until I found one!! Think of a mentor who is invested in you as a person. YES!!! A person!!! Because you don’t just show up at work as a one dimensional ‘professional’…Rather, just as in ‘normal life’, at work you are full of passions, strengths, motivations, fears, weaknesses and aspirations. You have many dimensions or what I like to call: YOUR WHOLE SELF.

Let me share a bit more about my work BFF, Walter, and how you could find yours.

Look inward before looking outward

There are two key aspects of this: (1) Understanding what type of friend you usually are and (2) Being self-aware about your own strengths and weaknesses.

It’s important to know what kind of friend you are to others in your life. There are several types of friends, including the cheerleader, the good-time friend, the kindred spirit, and the strategist. You could be several types or you could be all those things into one – called the ‘True Friend’. Understanding this will determine how you will develop work friendships. Maybe you are a person who seeks input from many different experts without revealing too much of yourself or maybe you rely on the advice of a single person that knows you best.  You need to reflect on the friendships of your past and assess how you will show up to develop these new work friendships.

Next, it is critical to be self-aware and self-evaluate. If you know your own strengths and weaknesses, then you can recognize and appreciate this in others. Looking inward at the kind of friend you are and who you are as a person will ensure that you seek the right traits and values in others.

As I shared in the beginning, my true friends are the ones that are very different from me but with whom I share common values and the intent to make each other better. That is how I found Walter.

We didn’t work together but we were (and still are) on the same professional leadership team, so I was able to understand his values by how he showed up. Walter always expressed his opinion, even if not popular. In fact, he would always say the things that no one would dare to say. Now, he didn’t always say this in the optimal way, which pissed off some and greatly intimidated others. However, I saw someone that stands up for the values he believes in and I greatly admired that in him.

So, you found someone who you think might become your work BFF…How do you develop that friendship?

Work Friendship vs Networking – You need both

Developing a work friendship is different from networking, although it might initially feel very similar. The main difference is the order of depth or focus and breadth. Networking is broad first and then focused vs work friendship, which is deeper first and then broad. Both are important and require different skills.

Networking is a two way street about business or professional goals.  The goal is to create a “pool” of people that can directly improve or enhance your products, services, or career.  It’s like a strategic alliance where both parties see value in the partnership. To do this effectively, you must invest up-front time to identify the people in your network or that of others that are most aligned with your goals and objectives. You also need to lay out the value you have to offer the other person. It boils down to 2 questions – ‘what do I want to learn?’ and ‘what can I share?’.

A work friendship is about the one-to-one relationship that is aligned to your core values.  The goal is to create a deep relationship based on understanding each other as a ‘whole person’ and to determine how this shows up professionally. To do this effectively, it should start in a positive way and be based on shared current or past experiences, just like in personal friendships.  Of course, humor is very helpful!! This then helps identify commonalities, shared interests and passions. This is the foundation of any great friendship. Once established, the rest of your ‘whole-self’ can be exposed; those are the more vulnerable areas but also the areas where work friends are needed the most. Why? Because your work BFFs will give you the best, most impactful feedback, will push you out of your comfort zone, and will lift you up when you need it the most.

Back to Walter.  Once I recognized that I had shared values with Walter, I also realized that he wasn’t the easiest person to befriend. So, to get to know him better, I asked if we could go for dinner to discuss a joint work-related topic.  It was a bit awkward at first but once we started having common topics to discuss, the conversation flowed naturally and I started asking more questions, as well as, sharing my views on the work-related topics. We started challenging each other’s perspectives and we quickly learned that although we think completely differently we strive towards similar goals, grounded in similar values. This created a bond that allowed us to share more about our ‘whole selves’.

Now you have your work BFF…how do you keep this friendship going?

Making it last!

Like all great relationships, time and effort is required. A work friendship is no different. You must set aside time, show that you care and invest in that person. I believe that Walter and I still do that for each other.  He has become my mirror at work and I do the same for him. We call each other out when we are not striving to be our best. We are empathetic and lend a listening ear when we need it. We also push each other forward when we draw back or inward. Walter is my Corrine at work.

In fact, a few years ago, I shared my aspiration to start a blog to share my views on the intersection of leadership, innovation and life. However, I have a BIG fear of writing. Walter keeps pushing (ok-shoving) me since he knows it’s important to me.  He doesn’t let my fears hold me back.

Thanks, Walter, for being my work BFF.  I greatly appreciate our friendship and our mutual desire to be the best leader and person we can be!!!

Let’s Get Started!

To summarize, below are the steps you can take to develop your new ‘work BFF’:

  • Step 1 – Assess your current and past close friendships and identify your friend type(s). For more info, check out the following link:
  • Step 2 – List out your ‘whole-self’ dimensions – passions, strengths, personal characteristics, fears, weaknesses and aspirations.
  • Step 3 – Identify people within your own network or the network of others that are possible matches for you.
  • Step 4 – Make the connection based on a topic of mutual interest to start the friendship!

More great reading:

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