I am often asked how to handle friendships in the workplace that may feel somewhat elite. When there's a small number of officemates who do everything together and seem to have formed an impenetrable circle, it can create an environment of hurt feelings and promote animosity among peers. While it's human nature to gravitate toward some people over others, the problem arises when there's a perception of exclusivity and favoritism surrounding a select few. Whether you are part of a group or observing one from the outside, here are a few tips to ensure that cliques don't hinder an otherwise productive company culture.
Be considerate. Business relationships can greatly enhance our motivation to go to work each day. While you may particularly enjoy spending time with a few of your associates, stay mindful of those unintentionally being left out. It's fine if you want to get together for happy hour or plan for the weekend, but discussing your adventures in front of colleagues not a part of the festivities is in poor taste. While you are entitled to spend time with whoever you please, it's good practice to include others in a business lunch or after hour meet up occasionally.
Do your own inner-office networking. Expanding your circle of professional connections isn't limited to mixers and community functions. Challenge yourself to reach out to colleagues you don't see regularly. You may potentially be overlooking an alliance or mentorship opportunity.
Supervise thoughtfully. If you are a manager, you walk a fine line with work friendships. A close peer-boss relationship can be fraught with potential landmines. Pay attention to how you interact with those you supervise. Be especially cautious not to show favoritism when delegating new business. Remember, you have the power to help foster collaboration between employees who may not normally interact.
Watch what you say. Gossip is the quickest path to team discord. Saying bad things about one colleague in an attempt to win favor from another can be disastrous. Avoid the temptation to vent about your boss or peers to coworkers; there's always a chance that your confidential musings will be shared. Adopt a personal no-gossip policy, showing others through your actions where you stand. People will respect you and rely on you as a trustworthy staff member.
Steer clear of being professionally typecast. If you connect strongly with only a distinct set of colleagues, you may be branding yourself in the same way. For example, if your cubicle pals are known for their wild partying antics, you are likely developing a similar reputation. Your mother was correct when she taught you: "You are known by the company you keep."
Spread your wings. Feeling excluded by certain associates might take you back to your adolescent years when you longed to be part of the cool crew at school. Past experiences with cliques shouldn't rattle you as an adult. Remember, you have the wisdom and maturity to create your own affiliations. If there are people you would like to get to know better, step out of your comfort zone and make the first move. You will be glad you did.