Throughout my career, I created close relationships with a lot of work related people that I called my friends. My wife kept telling me they were not my real friends but rather my work friends. I didn’t see a difference.

I learned that there is a distinct difference between business relationships and friendships. Developing a friendship is not the same as building a meaningful business relationship and that distinction is important because you won’t get the same results. Unfortunately like me, many mistakenly believe that the first step to building a business relationship is to develop a friendship.

Real friends will be there for you in your tough times and whom you enjoy inviting over to your house for dinner or speaking with regularly. Your work friends are those that you hang out with for lunch or happy hour because you happen to be in the same building or industry. Of course, there may be occasions which you really find a true friend at work but generally, I think it is rare.

Here are several questions that can help determine if a person is your real friend or work friend.

  • Do you hang out with your friend outside of the office and especially on the weekends?
  • Do you know your friend’s other friends outside of the office?
  • Did you meet your friend’s significant other?
  • If you and your friend are up for the same promotion and s/he ends up getting the promotion, would you be happy for her/him?
  • If your friend quit work, would you still meet up with her/him?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, congratulations, you have found yourself a true friend at work. If not, it might be best for you to keep some distance with your work friends. The way to keep that distance is to avoid discussing your personal matters, don’t gossip about other people at work, don’t take everything personally, and always be professional.

I would like to believe I am a fun guy and people were naturally attracted to me. In reality, when you have a position of authority and influence, people with agendas want to disguise themselves as friends. Beware: these are not your real friends. I learned that the hard way.

There was a difficult time in my life when I really needed help. So I contacted my so called friends. I thought it would be easy to get the assistance I needed, especially since I helped many of them in the past. But that’s not how it worked out. What happened to those friends when I needed them the most? Poof! They were gone.

Fake friends are no different than shadows, they stick around during your brightest moments, but disappear during your darkest hours.

The difference between a work friend and a real friend is that business remains at the heart of a business friendship. Don’t get me wrong. We need to be friendly. We need to be sociable, open and pleasant. That’s usually the first requirement to building a valuable business friendship that has business needs as its foundation. We just need to be careful with who we call our real friends.

“I’m a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic: work friends are neither work nor friends. Discuss.”¹


¹ Coffee Talk with Linda Richman (Mike Myers – Saturday Night Life 1993)