[Career Story] Friendly, Not Friends

One thing that’s hurt me frequently was thinking that professional contacts were friends. The problem stems from misgauging what layer of trust we operate on. When I talk like a friend yet they think we’re merely acquaintances, they won’t reciprocate. Is there an easy way to prevent this awkwardness? Is it just as simple as being friendly with people, waiting an arbitrary period of time, before considering them friends? Can our colleagues ever become friends?

With time, yes.

I’ve found myself pensive during the first week. I just don’t know people well enough to open up. Within the first month of working around these people, I can generally assess whether they’re even worth becoming acquainted with, let alone become friends. If not, I’m friendly, and honestly, I don’t take much of what they say seriously. I’ve worked around too many terrible people to consider it worth my time to wade through negativity for an occasional gem of comradery.

I have plenty of legitimate friends that provide comradery.

I worked with this one screw-up we’ll call Zoolander. By the first day, I already questioned his judgement, and by the first week I knew he was completely untrustworthy, professionally and personally. Zoolander was one of the most arrogant people I’ve worked with, and I’ve worked with many, yet he couldn’t justify the arrogance at all. We also suspected he was doing drugs in the bathroom, affecting his memory, so there was that, too. Still, I was friendly with him.

That shocked everyone else.

I did it merely because it was better for everyone if we didn’t piss him off. No matter how many fireable offenses he committed – from screwing up work, being untrainable, coming in late, to leaving work without telling anyone – they wouldn’t fire him. Zoolander was affecting moral. The rest of the team just complained about the stupid things he was doing. I wasn’t above that, giving him the nickname, which cracked up the three people I told the nickname to, getting the ball rolling.

No way I’d become friends with Zoolander.

However, I’m still friends and acquaintances with many of the people I met on that gig years later. We usually just end up joking about Zoolander at some point before talking about work. At other gigs, I’ve met people where we’ve bonded over more than just our mutual disdain for our colleagues. When the conversations are that limited, you’re usually just acquaintances, which is great for casual questions you may have, just as long as you remember that you’re probably not friends.

Because when it comes to friendships, there are layers:

You should always start by being friends with yourself. Without that, you’re screwed. Your family should usually be closer than your friends, if not, skip to your friends group. Acquaintances are good for the occasional chat, whereas you might rarely if ever chat with professional contacts. With that in mind, it’s alright to be friendly with your gig’s Zoolanders.

Just as long as your friends don’t mind.

Sources: My professional career

Quotes: None

Inspirations: Recent chats with recruiters and hiring folks.

Related: Layers of Trust

Photo: Sticky note on a filing cabinet, showing my usual diagram for how I rank people based on their trust/respect proximities in any decision I might be considering, swapping strangers for professionals.

My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.