Interpersonal EDGE: Can Co-Workers Be True Friends?
Saturday, July 16, 2011

By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services

Q. I have several co-workers I consider friends whom I've talked with quite candidly about how I feel about our team and personal issues in my marriage. Now I'm hearing some of this information in our office grapevine, and I'm really upset. How can I make sure that what I say to my friends stays private?

A. The only way to make sure that your private thoughts stay private at work is not to share them with workplace pals.

You may sincerely enjoy and become attached to people you work with, your main connection to them is about making a living. Anything that you say to anyone in your workplace may be repeated without your permission at a time you find most inconvenient.

You have to decide if your connection with each co-worker is a friendship or work relationship. If you chose friendship, sooner or later your work will suffer. If you chose work relationship, sooner or later your friendship will suffer. If you know the trade-offs, you'll define your relationships early on and know what to expect.

Since you now realize that anything you say to anyone at work may be repeated in ways that hurt your reputation, you could use the office grapevine to your benefit. Instead of sharing private observations that undermine your effectiveness, try sharing information that will enhance your reputation, and trust the grapevine to be your publicist.

The same office grapevine that can hurt you if you share personal information can enhance your career if you expect that what you say will be spread throughout your organization.

We all need true friends who will sift through our stories and experiences with us to help us grow and cope with challenges. I realize it is tempting to try to make the people we see every day at work carry the dual function of being both co-workers and true friends. However, you can see why this expectation is a setup for failure, betrayal and disappointment. If you insist on combining a friendship and a work relationship, you may well end up with neither.

Instead, make sure you seek out and maintain people outside your workplace with whom you can share all your private observations, with no risk this information will leak back to your organization. Family, neighbors, churches, interest groups and clubs are all safe bets to find personal confidants. The Internet has even provided assistance in the form of websites such as You can find the contact information for people who share your hobbies.

Being effective at work often requires that we sacrifice the way we think things should be so that we can navigate the way things really are. Insisting that reality assume the shape of our ideals will just leave us consistently disappointed and frustrated.

Enjoy your workplace friends by looking forward to their humor, companionship and help. Just don't expect them to take your secrets to the grave.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" . She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.

This was printed in the July 17, 2011 - July 30, 2011 Edition


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