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ImageOffice, agreed, is a tricky place to forge friendships as one moment you are treading on thin ice, and in the other sharing like a soul mate. Whoever has said workplace only attracts fair weather friends has forgotten to consider the strong emotional and political undercurrents that run in a charged up work atmosphere.

Where a colleague's promotion can make you thoughtful, jealous or even spiteful, a jointly received dressing-down from the boss suddenly irons out all differences. It is easy to end up as friends in an office setup than otherwise, as colleagues at a certain level turn into confidantes, and realise in the true sense your professional woes. Admits Manmeet Ahluwalia, marketing head with an online travel company, "Our work schedules are such that we end up spending most of the day in office. In such a situation forging friendships with immediate colleagues is but natural."

He also feels that interaction level is higher with colleagues than friends, and in the process you get to know each other better. Explains senior clinical psychologist Dr Bhavna Barmi, "Friendship entails a sense of intimacy and inter-dependence based on common goals and interests. Therefore, people relating closely at work are bound to develop friendships. Besides, it fosters a sense of competition and camaraderie as well."

Just as office friendship is a reality, instances of friend turning foe are commonplace too. A jealous colleague is capable of spoiling things for you by baring your personal details, or worse still, a gossip about the boss. But, does that mean real friendship in an office setup is only wishful thinking? Avers Ravneet Kaur, writer and food enthusiast, "You can make friends at work provided the two of you are from different teams, as misunderstandings are inevitable. After all, you are in a competitive atmosphere, and your paths are bound to intercept." Gopika Misra, content manager with an online travel company, too feels the same way. "If you have friends in different departments it would be smooth sailing, but if it is a reporting relationship or you have regular work dealing, stress would creep in," she opines.

But there is another facet of this blow hot, blow cold relationship. Ravneet recounts an experience with an ex-colleague whom she considered a friend. "She used to come up with advises in the most difficult situation and expressed so with all honesty, or so I felt. Later I realised that she wanted me to cut a sorry figure before the editor, while she got away with brownie points." While you make friends in all innocence, it is hard to negate the fact that a vindictive colleague in the guise of a friend is a threat to your job and can mar your terms with fellow colleagues including the boss.

Guy de Noronha, a senior journalist, explains the phenomenon well, "This happens in the early phase of your career when you are busy climbing the ladder, and are hardly tolerant towards others. Friendships at this stage are surface-level, like going together to the pub on a Friday night and getting drunk. But with more years of work, you create your own space and no longer feel threatened by your colleagues. Lasting friendships happen only then, once you are over your insecurities." He goes on to add, "My greatest friends have come from work. Never have I left an organisation without earning a good friend."

Dr Bhavna sheds more light on this apparent friendship between colleagues. Says she, "Workplace friends help navigate through a difficult work environment, are better placed to relate to your grievances, and offer advice from an empathetic standpoint. Having said that, it is imperative to consider that lack of trust among employees, an extremely competitive work environment, back-stabbing and sabotage, undermines common goals and hampers team spirit." She warns, "For such friendships to survive, both parties must act responsibly and respect each other's professional commitment. To say the least, a broken friendship can zap productivity and spread discontentment."

However, Manmeet feels misunderstanding between colleague-friends should not be considered the end of the road. "It is like any other friendship with its share of ups and downs. I don't see any demarcation. As long as it is peer to peer, and there isn't a conflict of interest, it shouldn't be a problem. Complications arise only when it involves a superior and subordinate."

But, what is it that makes an employee-boss friendship farfetched? Admits Guy, "With a superior it wouldn't be an honest relationship because at the end of the day it boils down to business. You might be courteous to your boss if you ran into him in a cinema hall, but certainly wouldn't enjoy sitting next to each other while watching the movie!"

But it is possible to be friends with an ex-boss, offers Gopika. "I am friends with my ex-boss now, and have told him honestly about how we hated his ways. Today, those professional barriers are gone and we have discovered fresh friendship," she signs off.


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