Lately, the people in my Master’s program have become unbearable. Whenever more than two of us get together, it seems like all we’re able to talk about is school. Although these conversations seem to make some people feel better, I leave these discussions feeling more frustrated and irritable than ever. Ideally, I would be able to cut these Debbie Downers out of my life entirely, but our associations at school make that inadvisable, if not impossible.
What I’m learning now, then, is that there can be a difference between friends and co-workers. For those of us just starting out in the adult world, this distinction can be difficult to understand at first. As far as I can tell, the major difference is intimacy. While I might tell my friends about difficult situations, I don’t necessarily share those same situations with my co-workers. With a friend, you don’t have to think about image. With co-workers, you should try to remain on your best behavior. With co-workers, it seems to be better to stay pleasant and friendly but avoid over-sharing. Sometimes friends and co-workers overlap, and that can also be a difficult situation to navigate. Two friends and I went out to lunch this afternoon, and although I begged them to talk about anything OTHER than school, it seemed like the conversation kept drifting back to professors, other students, coursework, and theorists. To make my friendship with these co-workers function, I’ve tried to put as much distance between our professional life at school and our personal life as friends as humanly possible, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, I still get frustrated when they get a better grade than I do on a paper I know they didn’t work as hard on, or when all they want to talk about is a book we read in class a month ago that I hated, but I take a deep breath and remind myself that we’re friends.
I’m the type of person that doesn’t enjoy mixing business with pleasure, and maybe that’s because I get so frustrated about my work that I want to be able to forget about it at the end of the day. That doesn’t necessarily go for everyone, but being friends with a co-worker does bring up issues of privacy that other friendships may not. You don’t necessarily want photos circulated around the department or office of you wearing a hula skirt at Jill’s 29th birthday, and making these expectations clear to co-worker friends can help clear up any ambiguity. Also, try to keep office gossip to a minimum. Although it’s fun to talk about other people, if things go south in your friendship you may be in for a bad few months as your former friend and current co-worker begins to share some of your less-flattering comments with other co-workers.
What have your experiences been with having co-workers as friends?