Best of Both Worlds podcast: Shasta Nelson on work friendships

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

Ever wonder why kids seem to have more friends than adults? Part of it is consistency. When you go to school every week day, you see the same kids over and over again, and through the sheer quantity of interactions, anything that seems relatively positive can become a friendship.

With adults, the logical equivalent is work. And sure enough, work is a great place to make friends — despite the reputation. Plenty of research has found that people who have a “best friend” at work feel far more engaged. This makes sense. If you genuinely enjoy spending time with a person, you enjoy spending time with them even when you’re at work. And that makes work itself seem better.

Today’s podcast guest, Shasta Nelson, is the author of the new book The Business of Friendship, which is all about how and why you should make friends at work. Yep, that includes supervisors too (she points out that leaders can get lonely!) In this episode of Best of Both Worlds, she talks about the friendship pillars of consistency, vulnerability, and positivity, and how these can work in a work context.

And then she addresses the current big issue: if you’re working from home, how can you create that same consistency for making friends? It’s possible, if more difficult. You have to be intentional, which is hard to do in a busy life. But probably worth it.

I loved Shasta’s practical advice, so be sure to give this episode a listen!

8 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Shasta Nelson on work friendships

  1. I love Shasta Nelson’s work and have read Frientimacy and taken it to heart. As a result of her advice, I have improved so many of my valuable female friendships. But when it comes to business vs. personal, I have to wholeheartedly, and respectfully, disagree. I am with Judith Martin (a.k.a. “Miss Manners”) on this one: social interactions at work are made awkward and confusing due to the increasing informality of work culture in the U.S. I’m at work to work, not to make friends (although I do enjoy and appreciate having friend-LY relationships with coworkers).
    As a respectful counterpoint to Ms Shasta’s take on friendships at work, here is a Harvard Business Review interview with Ms. Martin on this very question:

    “You don’t have time to make friends if you’re out socializing every night with pseudofriends. … It is a terrific imposition for a business to ask people to give up their weekends and their evenings for unpaid work. I get these pathetic letters from 70-year-old retired executives who say, ‘I worked for 40 years in this office, and everybody loved me. They gave me this huge party when I left. And now nobody calls me. What happened?’ What happened, I say, is that your colleagues aren’t your friends—and they never were.”

    1. Good article, agreed. And sometimes work friendships can cross the line into making others feel excluded or marginalized.

      1. I agree with this. Work friendships are SO useful for the people in the “in-crowd” but unfortunately serve to marginalize those who don’t “fit in,” look like those people, or share a common background or superficial interests. For instance, for the longest time, it was recommended that women learn to play golf or to talk about sports in order for them to fit in with a predominantly male culture. What an imposition on your non-work time! And what if you suck at golf? Are you really better off spending time polishing your golf game in order to fit in than on doing a good job at work or decompressing doing activities you enjoy?

        1. There’s a difference between genuine friendships with co-workers where you aren’t expecting anything in return other than enjoyable company, and networking based friendly relationships with co-workers where you’re strategically trying to benefit your career. If I have to spend my time doing something I’m not interested in to build a relationship with a co-worker, that definitely would not count as a friendship in my book. I think the latter type of networking based “friendships” are the sort that leave people out if you don’t fit in, but in my experience, that hasn’t been the case with genuine friendships. (Which is not to say that I haven’t experienced situations where there’s been a mismatch in how much I like someone versus how much they like me. I’ve been bummed that they didn’t like me more – but getting over that is as simple as reminding myself that we have a positive professional working relationship and we don’t need to be friend friends.)

          That’s not to say that work friendships don’t come with pitfalls, some of which Nelson brought up in this episode. I’m in the midst of navigating it now, with me getting a managerial promotion where the other top candidate is a friend. We discussed it openly and continue to do so, and hopefully we can keep our friendship in tact even as we navigate these professional changes. But in some ways, is it really so different from a couple of college friends having a crush on the same person and that person choosing one of them? Not really – a lot of the same human emotions are at play. To me, the added value of work friendships – feeling like I work in a place where I can be myself, where it’s okay to sometimes be vulnerable, where I enjoy spending 40+ hours a week with the people around me – is worth the risk, and the time and energy spent mitigating the risks of workplace friendships.

  2. Great episode and guest! I’m not familiar with Shasta and will have to check out her work. She had great reminders for us during these unprecedented times. As a manager, I’ve always encouraged social interactions during travel and team building events. We’ve done a few virtual lunches (with everyone ordering Door Dash delivery from the company) to celebrate milestones and welcome new hires during COVID. Does anyone else have ideas for the remote workplace that have been fun?

    I had a work BFF at my previous corporation (who I’m still friends with now!) and this ep made me miss working with her so much. We became close when our offices were next door and we were expecting babies only three weeks apart. We didn’t work together, but with many of the same people. Shasta & the research are exactly right about work friendships making our long hours so much more enjoyable, and better work effort for the company. Our HR department touted the same research.

    My current company uses the donut plug-in on slack to connect for virtual coffee. It’s been fun, as I’ve met another mom who lives in my town with similar age children. We both have school kids learning remotely in the next room now.

  3. I liked her point about the need for deep relationships rather than more relationships. That’s actually something I reflected upon increasingly, especially since I had kids. I find that my relationships with friends who also have kids became very shallow. The only thing we talk about is kids-related stuff, but mostly the practicalities of our parenting lives, not so much our feelings or difficulties we face. And now in Covid times, our lives have become so boring (no more lockdown in my country but still limited in what we can do) that we have even less to talk about. We have been communicating less lately and I am afraid of seeing these relationships dying.

    And yes, you can make friends at work! When I started my new job two years ago, another woman about my age started in the team as well and we really clicked. Some common projects and a few business trips later, she was asking me at what age I had my first child because she was considering getting pregnant! Here for vulnerability! 🙂 Going through the stress of starting a new job (and the frustrations we both experienced with some people!) really made us bond. Our Zoom coordination calls now tend to overrun as we start talking about our planner plans for 2021 (I got her into Hobonichi after I was drawn to it by SHU ;-))

  4. Most of my post-college friendships have been made through work. I have plans on Fri, Sat and Sun of this week with former and current colleagues – one is a lunch with 2 former colleagues and a current colleague (we all worked together several years ago), one is a coffee, the other is a get together for our 2 families for dinner (all gatherings are outdoors of course!). I guess it depends on the culture of your company, but I think it’s definitely possible to make friends at work and not make others feel excluded. Now that I’m a mom, I don’t see work friends outside of work all that often and now that we are all WFH, we really don’t see each other. But with colder weather coming, I’ve made a conscious effort to see work friends (and all friends) in person since I know we’ll be cooped up indoors fairly soon. I miss the days of being able to grab coffee or lunch with colleagues during the day but that seems like a 2022 prospect. 🙁

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *