Article: Wednesday, 11 October 2017

To advance your career, you need to be trusted by others, and nothing creates trust in the workplace like becoming friends with colleagues, says Stefano Tasselli of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). But in one of his recent studies, co-authored with Martin Kilduff (UCL), he discovered that your workplace friends may distrust you if your personality does not match your role in the friendship network.

Should you open up to your workplace friends, or is it better to be diplomatic?

If you work for a company, your manager probably expects you to keep insider information to yourself and not share it with other departments, says Tasselli. You have to be discreet and only share with those who need to know. Everything changes when colleagues become friends, however. Friends discuss work and trust each other with insider information. And these friendships come with a bonus. Having access to extra information and being trusted can make projects more successful and advance people’s careers.

to be trusted, your personality - and more specifically your openness and flexibility in how you present yourself - must be in line with the one you present in your friendship network.

Friendship networks

But does this still apply when you make friends in other parts of the organisation and you become embedded in different friendship groups? To find out, Tasselli studied two groups: 126 young professionals and 75 hospital professionals. He discovered that to be trusted, your personality - and more specifically your openness and flexibility in how you present yourself - must be in line with the one you present in your friendship network.

Speak your mind

If your workplace friends are also close friends with each other, you are essentially part of a close-knit group or clique. In this case, your work friends will appreciate you being spontaneous and speaking your mind with them. In such a tight group of friends, it’s important not to overthink how you present yourself and be open when you want to be. This will help you come across as more consistent and make them trust you more.

(Wo)man in the middle

Things change when you have two separate friendship groups at work and you are in the middle. In that case, both groups will expect you to be more careful with what you say, to blend in with each group and adapt your style to the setting. They know that if you spill the beans in one group of friends, you will probably do the same in the other. Tasselli found that people in these positions who did not have this diplomatic skillset were less trusted in both groups.

Friendship brokers

Such ‘friendship brokers’ can potentially play an important role in the organisation, according to Tasselli. They can bring different departments or teams closer together and increase knowledge sharing, which also stimulates innovation.

But these people must be aware that being a diplomat and go-between comes with a risk. If you don’t have the personality to match the role and cannot be careful with your words, you may end up being the object of distrust in both groups, he concludes.

Dr. Stefano Tasselli

Associate Professor

Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)

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