Office Politics

Coworkers Are Not Your Friends in the Workspace

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Coworkers Are Not Your Friends in the Workspace

January 22, 2024

Office Politics

Group of business colleagues having a headache while working on laptop and trying to solve the problems during a meeting.

-Coworkers are not your friends
Coworkers not your friends
Friends at work
Reasons why your coworkers
Truths about the workplace
Friends your coworkers are
Blur the lines
Making friends
Make friends
Work friend
Your job
they're not your friends
Can you be friends with coworkers
Coworkers aren’t friends
Being friends with coworkers
Being sabotaged at work
your coworkers are not your friends
Image by Drazen Zigic on Freepik

No one really wants to think that your coworkers are not your friends. And yet, you’re at another team meeting, ideas bouncing around the room, laughter and chatter filling the air. Yet you feel out of sync, sensing something: though perfectly pleasant, coworkers are not your friends. This realization can be uncomfortable but common, especially for Black women. While friendliness has its place, wise professionals know when to draw the lines between merely cordial relationships and true friendships at work. But that doesn’t mean we want to work all day in a place where coworkers are not your friends.

Blurring these lines can jeopardize your career advancement and personal well-being. When your coworkers are not your friends, you must adopt strategies to succeed on your own terms. This article explores five research-backed approaches to help ambitious Black women navigate tricky work dynamics with grace.

5 Strategies to Navigate the Workplace when Coworkers Are Not Your Friends

  1. Establish Clear Professional Boundaries

Creating well-defined personal and professional lines at work clarifies relationships and expectations. Over 60% of professionals believe stronger workplace boundaries improve productivity and office relationships, as per a LinkedIn survey. Without clear borders, coworkers may feel entitled to overstep or make inappropriate requests.

Define your comfort levels regarding after-hours communications, personal favors, sharing private details, and other non-work related areas. If others cross the line, address it diplomatically but firmly.

As well professional boundaries are important. For instance, if a coworker asks you to lie or be dishonest on a report, politely decline and remind them you prefer keeping work and ethical and maintaining your integrity.

Enforcing your boundaries consistently and fairly ensures you remain approachable yet professional. It also reduces dealings with colleagues overstepping their role or taking advantage.

Our career coaching services help Black women recognize situations requiring clearer boundaries at work. We also provide the tools and scripts to assert your limits diplomatically while upholding your values.

  1. Cultivate Networks Beyond Your Immediate Team when They’re Not Friends at Work

Intentionally developing a strong, diverse professional network is linked to increased leadership opportunities and promotions for women, finds Harvard Business Review. Rather than solely befriending your direct team, connect widely across your company and industry. Identify multi-dimensional individuals who can become valuable allies and sponsors. This is really important when you realize coworkers are not your friends in the workplace.

Build relationships centered on mutual benefit, not forced friendships. Share advice and contacts without expecting personal favors in return. Over time, such networking contacts morph into a supportive community to lean on during tricky office politics or career changes.

Our comprehensive career coaching offers strategies for expanding your networks authentically at any stage. We also provide the framework for cultivating connections that accelerate, rather than stagnate, your trajectory.

Related reading: Confidently Take Charge of Your Career with Power & Principles

  1. Develop Greater Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) enables understanding your own and others’ motivations and behaviors. This interpersonal skill set is prioritized by 71% of hiring managers over IQ alone per CareerBuilder. Yet EQ is not innate for everyone and can be honed through conscious effort.

Enhancing your EQ allows smoothly navigating complex work dynamics, even when you feel slighted or face covert slights. You become adept at perceiving negative undercurrents then responding professionally. This helps maintain composure and progress when coworkers’ friendliness feels superficial.

Our career coaching program builds emotional intelligence across 17 core competencies. You gain the self-awareness and interpersonal tools to override knee-jerk reactions to challenging personalities. We provide safe spaces to process frustrations then align responses with your big-picture career goals. Having a safe place to vent when your coworkers are not your friends is crucial to your well-being.

Related reading: How Does Emotional Intelligence Help Black Women?

  1. Communicate Assertively and Effectively when Coworkers Are not Friends

Speaking clearly, directly and confidently about needs and concerns need not equate to aggression. Assertive communication simply means expressing yourself fully while respecting others’ boundaries. Data shows workplaces with assertive yet professional communication enjoy 50% higher team productivity per the American Management Association.

Reasons why your coworkers are not your friends will vary. If you sense implicit biases or microaggressions from coworkers, address them tactfully. For example, if colleagues continually interrupt or dismiss your ideas in meetings, restate your points clearly and do not self-censor. You might say, “As I was suggesting earlier, I believe approach X would better suit our audience. Could we further discuss its merits?”

Our career coaching offers scripts and role-playing to help clients communicate assuredly even when facing indirect slights. We also provide platforms to safely process frustrating exchanges post-fact.

  1. Prioritize Ongoing Learning and Self-Reflection

In a continually shifting landscape, professional growth and skill-building are non-negotiables. Over 85% of workers consider lifelong learning key to promotions and career advancement, notes Pew Research. Yet self-reflection is equally crucial to create meaningful change. Because coworkers are not your friends, you’ll want to stay polished and continue self learning.

Identify knowledge gaps holding you back from your next role aspiration or improved team dynamics. Dedicate time weekly to up-skill in those areas through courses, coaching and other resources.

Related reading: Workplace Bullying and 6 Impacts on Black Women

Related reading: 10 Warning Signs It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Your Job

Also carve out space to better understand your workplace triggers and improve self-regulation. Reflect on exchanges where you overreacted and strategize better responses. Knowing your strengths and development areas increases resilience when coworkers’ feel less like true supporters.

Our personalized coaching plans help map knowledge gaps, create skilling roadmaps and provide reflective practices. We also offer assessments to better understand communication and working styles.

In Summary

When your coworkers are friendly on a superficial level, but do not develop deeper personal connections, you can end up feeling isolated in the workplace. Using research-based strategies for boundaries, networking, emotional intelligence, communication and continuous personal growth allows continuing to excel. Let’s be realistic. Here’s some truths about the workplace: You may never make friends with all your colleagues, but it should not be a barrier to your career success.

Remember, your career development and fulfillment often rests significantly in your own hands. Invest in yourself through trusted coaching support and commit to showing up authentically. Build confidence in navigating present workspaces while crafting your longer-term career vision.

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Twanna Carter, PhD, PCC, Career Coach. Photo by Renee Wilhite

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Twanna Carter, PhD, ICF/PCC, Career Coach for Black Women Leaders | 20+ Years of Experience Helping Women Achieve Their Career Goals | Leadership |  Personal Development | Business Strategy | Career Development | Lifestyle Balance | Digital Business Card | Free 30-Minute Career Solution Call

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