There are pluses and minuses to becoming friends with your co-workers. On the one hand, research has shown that people learn more when they have fun at work, the nine-to-five certainly goes by faster when you have a pal in the office; on the other, workplace friendships can be emotionally exhausting, especially if you’re in the weird position of trying to continue that relationship outside the office.
But there’s a middle ground there, something like friendship lite: Regardless of whether you decide to go the full-blown-buddies route or keep a cordial distance, you still want your co-workers to know you well enough to trust you. And the best way to do that, as writer Renuka Rayasam recently explained for the BBC, isn’t showing them that you’re reliable or hardworking. In fact, it has very little to do with your competence on the job — more important, she wrote, is that you tell them a personal story or two.
The reason: Sharing a little piece of information about yourself is key to cultivating warmth, a concept that’s widely misunderstood: Warmth is distinct from friendliness or cheeriness, Matthew Kohut, co-author of Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential, explained to the BBC; instead, it’s about how easily you can convey to another person that the two of you have something meaningful in common. What feels like warmth to one person, in other words, may fall flat for another; connections are built through specificity, rather than any sort of general one-size-fits-all vibe.
“Warmth looks different in different places,” Kohut said. “There is warmth in the Green Berets and there is warmth in kindergarten.”
No matter what it looks like in your office, though, it’s something worth pursuing: In a 2015 Deloitte survey on employee well-being, more than half of millennials said they’d have a better work experience if their CEOs were more forthcoming about how they maintained a personal life outside the office (28 percent of Gen Xers and 39 percent of baby boomers said the same). Revealing a bit of your outside-the-office life can also help you feel more like your authentic self at work, which helps cut down on stress and burnout. You don’t have to overshare, but it’s probably not the best idea to be a totally closed book, either — and besides, the more time you spend swapping stories, the less time you have to accidentally toss off an awkward joke.