• lynneeveratt

Someone who looks at you like Bo and Vladdy look at each other

“As you find more common ground with someone, they become more of a person.”

- Colleen Diessner, from “How Two Internet Nemeses Became Friends,” Julie Beck, The Atlantic, April 22, 2022

They were both named after professional baseball players, both grew up watching their fathers play baseball in the major leagues, and both are exceptional performers in their sport. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays is considered to be one of the best hitters in professional baseball. His teammate and buddy, Bo Bichette, is one of the best hitters in the league in his (shortstop) position.

“He pushes me. He’s always trying to help me get better. Our relationship means a lot.”

- Bo Bichette

According to Professor Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, friendship is a key contributor to a positive “inner work life,”—the emotions, perceptions, and motivations that people experience as they respond to the events of their workday—and nobody can truly thrive without it. Through her research that analyzed nearly 12,000 diary entries from hundreds of employees in diverse organizations, Professor Amabile found that the more closely bonded team members were to one another, the better their inner work lives were, and the greater their progress. In essence, friendships help nourish peak performance.

Fortunately for Bo and Vladdy, they were able to continue to work together in person throughout most of the pandemic. The adversity they faced together, playing away from their home field in Toronto for 670 days, forged an even stronger bond and fueled their exceptional 2021 performances. Unfortunately, for the past two years, many of us were deprived of the opportunity to play ball with our colleagues in person and feed our workplace friendships.

The need to bond with co-workers didn’t disappear when we began to work remotely. It grew stronger. We feel our need for connection as loneliness, a signal, like hunger or thirst. The brain interprets loneliness as a threat—if we ignore the need it becomes corrosive, leading to chronic inflammation and increasing the risk for heart disease, cancer, and dementia, along with anxiety and depression.

As we begin our slow and intermittent migration back to the office, it’s worth remembering that connected people live longer, happier, and healthier lives. And one of the best places to invest in relationships is in the workplace where you already have something significant in common.

Prior to the pandemic, at least on the surface, workplace friendships appeared to be abundant, with four in five respondents to a U.S. survey saying they had at least one friend at work. However, a majority didn’t consider these people to be “real friends.”

The simple way to tell if a work friend is a real friend is to ask yourself: if either of us were to leave the company, would we still stay in touch?

If the desire is there, you can transform a work friend into a real friend. Discovering shared interests outside the workplace will make it more likely that your friendship won’t be limited to work. And research shows that creating shared happy experiences inside the workplace will make you more engaged with each other and your job.

Think about the best days of your work life. Chances are they didn’t involve a shared joke with a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint slide. For me, it was making my colleagues laugh at a wacky presentation of the strategic plan. Relabeling the company artwork with sticky notes was another workplace highlight, as was the time I discovered I had dressed almost exactly like my friend from finance and we spent the rest of day trying to avoid being seen together.

“Great meaning can grow from the simple pleasure of enjoying colleagues.”

- Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, from The Progress Principle, Harvard Business Review Press, 2011

To get the full benefit of workplace friendships, expand your definition of the word “workplace.” You don’t need a paid position in a large company to forge a friendship. I’ve found friends while doing volunteer work, working out at the gym, and being on the receiving end of someone else’s work. Any place people come together for a shared purpose, is fertile ground for friendship. All that’s required is a sense of curiosity and a willingness to ask questions that go beyond the typical pleasantries.

Questions like:

  • What are you looking forward to? (Seeing Lady Gaga in August!)

  • Can you recommend a book, or something you saw on TV that you really enjoyed? (Non-Fiction: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals , Fiction: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, TV: Severance)

  • What was the highlight of the past week? (Walking arm in arm with my dear friend and co-author Addie Greco-Sanchez—we met while doing volunteer work—down a deserted street in Bronte, Ontario after a fun Cuban and Mexican evening.)

Look for common ground beyond your shared geography, and you could discover the mutual nourishment of real friendship.

“Try to find yourself someone who looks at you the same way these two true hearts look at each other.”

- Sports journalist Rosie DiManno implores us to find our Bo (or Vladdy)

Get Fully Charged on Workplace Friendship

  • And if you’re looking for something to do with your newfound friends there’s Acts of Friendship by Lynne Everatt, Deb Mangolt and Julie Smethurst (we met at work!) with 47 great things you can do together.

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