Fishing for Professional Colleagues to Befriend
I spoke with a colleague today who shared how challenged he has found making meaningful relationships since college graduation. In the years since he has floundered at establishing a network of peers available for issues running the gamut from emotional support to professional advice. And his isolation and vulnerability surge when times get tough.
Like pandemic tough.
As we start to socialize, we have parents, caretakers or school staff who are at least somewhat aware and invested in our development and connection to others. However, as an adult no one has the job of ensuring that you are connected or supported…. that falls squarely on you, and for the rest of your life.
No pressure. But that can feel impossible and get harder as you get older. While this colleague was a few years removed from college, his feelings do come up for people of all ages. And the implications aren’t just related to your professional success. The data reveals that friendlessness is a factor in loneliness, suicide and even heart attacks. Furthermore, men suffer at rates two to three times more severe than women.
This is where Uncle Russ comes along.
I think that my greatest strength is the broad array of people that I consider friends, many of whom came about through professional circumstances. So, let’s move you down the pathway.
Who is the Right Friend for You?
You might be in an office of just three people. And let's say the other two are constantly quoting verbatim from Halloween V. The good news is that colleague-friends don’t need to be current workmates. Let’s go broad with the notion that everyone could be your friend.
Who are the kind(s) of people you want to engage? Are they only folks in your role, industry, or field? Employed by the same institution?
Who do you seem to get along best with? Is there a social style that tends to fit best with you, introversion, extroversion, ambiversion?
What shared interests matter to you? Friendships are built over time and often the result of common pursuits outside of work? Do you have hobbies, interests or passions that are the foundation to connection?
Finally, do you have a frequency when you want to engage or geographic proximity that matters given your shared interests? Will a mostly zoom or phone friend(s) work?
How do you Locate Prospective Friends?
If you’ve figured out what you want, where do you find them? One of the ways that locating friends as an adult is superior to childhood is that you have certain resources you can allocate to the cause - mode of transport, a bit of cash, time and the power of the Internet and crowdsourcing to move you forward in your goal.
Where you look depends on the intersections that make someone suitable for you. For example, a gathering of business owners at your house of worship, a networking group for accountants throughout your county, the company service day or affinity group or the squash or pickleball league.
We’ve figured out who to catch and where to catch them. How do you reel them in? Don’t hate me for this answer, but it is all about your being your authentic self with one big caveat.
Complex friendships are built on liking someone beyond shared interests. You can’t really fake your values or sense of humor for long so there isn’t much point in putting up a front. Caveat Alert. Be you, just don’t be in a hurry to establish intimacy. This isn’t too different from getting a mentor or finding a life partner. One person may decide within the first few hours of meeting what they want, press too hard and scare off the other. So be friendly, but don’t expect this new person to drop their other relationships or social obligations because you have made up your mind that you want them to be your friend.
Depending upon the context of where you initially met, you may have a predictable meeting pattern for some time. Or if you work in the same building, a lunch or coffee might be easy. Just allow for the slow progression of time and trust to build and share what’s happening, the good & bad in your life, and ask them about theirs. Be an advocate and supporter of them in the same way you want them to do so for you.
Friendships, like all relationships, are about give and take. You may be someone who likes to plan out the next three months’ worth of weekend activities and your new friend’s personal style or life situation may not allow for that. If you find this unsettling, they may not be a match for you.
As with all relationships you know that there may be conflicts or misunderstandings. The more you can meet these situations by demonstrating grace and empathy the better. While you want someone who can advocate for you and offer advice it doesn’t mean you should have expectations that they choose your firm for a specific line of business or hire your cousin for the competitive internship program. Friendship with tacit expectations of delivering on such things are really more business relationships which also have a place in the world but are very different.
I’ve long taken to heart the number of great people I hold as friends. Many have played pivotal roles in all aspects of my life. Good luck in adding richness to yours as well.
—Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.