Collaborations, Friendships, and Benefits: How to Improve Your Health and Career Through Social Connections

We often fondly look back on our childhood friendships. Making friends as a child is often easier, because as kids we have reduced inhibitions because we are less aware of certain queues and other factors than as adults, plus we have less responsibilities, making it that much easier to become friends with the other kid on the monkey bars or on the soccer field. Sure, as adults, it’s different, but it’s certainly doable and worth it!

There is a seemingly endless list of benefits by having friends in your life. Some of these include: stress management, emotional support, happiness, and even improved health markers. Recent studies have found that the influence friendships have on our productivity and health, is higher than other health factors such as nutrition and exercise.  

And it’s not just health. It’s work and career as well.

‘It’s not who you are, it’s who you know.’

Whether you are a team leader, team player, or both, cultivating relationships with colleagues or people within your industry can create a supportive and collaborative environment. And no, it’s not about ‘heal the world’ or being kind and having rainbows and unicorns at the office, it’s about having another person’s opinion which may be helpful to your work tasks or projects, and improved communication, as well as expanded networking, leading to better results and opportunities for career growth. Plus, having friends at work, makes it that much more pleasant and easier to do the work.

Ok, friendships are great. But as an adult, how do you make and maintain these friendships?

Even if you’re not a social butterfly, we’ve outlined exactly how you can brush up on your social skills and make those connections you really need in your life.



Be Approachable - a Good Listener and Show Support

This means having an inviting and friendly demeanour that encourages others to feel comfortable initiating conversations or interactions with you, that is approaching you without fear.

You can give off this ‘vibe’ by allowing yourself to smile, make eye contact, and actively listening when others speak, showing a genuine interest in what they’re saying and giving them your undivided attention. It may help if you adopt curiosity or pretend you’re a scientist to understand exactly what they’re saying and perhaps even why. Making yourself available and receptive to communication will make others around you feel more comfortable approaching you for social interaction and providing you with information they may not share with others.




Initiate Social Interactions

Being proactive in initiating conversations and social interactions may seem daunting for some, but something so simple can be very rewarding. You’d be surprised how much more open colleagues, team members, and even clients will be over a cup of coffee. Depending on the person, be it client, colleague, or team leader, you could invite them also for lunch, an informal gathering, or to after-work activities. These interactions break down barriers and can help establish connections, creating the opportunity for friendship.




Attend Workplace and Social Events

Similar to the previous suggestion, taking part in events or activities organised by your workplace such as team outings, celebrations, team-building exercises, volunteering, etc, helps bond with your co-workers and develop trust and rapport. Simply attending this event together will already create a bond, as you were there together and can share in the experience of being at that same event. Sharing experiences, having friendly discussions, and showing genuine interest in others will demonstrate your willingness to build connections beyond professional duties. It breaks down barriers, promotes a positive work environment, and encourages your colleagues to reciprocate the effort.



Collaborate on Projects

Look for opportunities to collaborate on projects or for tasks that require a team. When individuals come together to work towards a common objective, they have the chance to showcase their skills, problem-solve together, and rely on one another's strengths. This collaboration builds trust, promotes effective communication, and encourages a sense of camaraderie. Through the process, colleagues may discover shared interests, hobbies, or extracurricular activities, which can help you bond with your colleagues on a personal level. The bonds formed during collaborative projects go beyond work-related discussions, allowing for more meaningful interactions and the development of long-lasting friendships that can positively impact both personal and professional aspects of life.



Take Classes or Join Educational Programs

Go to that professional development workshop, attend the industry conference or trade show. It’s here that you may make some new connections that share common interests with you and allow you to expand your network for future collaborations or job referrals. It may allow you to gain industry insights or receive recommendations or endorsements.

Look for events and classes that align with your professional goals and interests. Consider the reputation of the event or class, the expertise of the facilitators, and the networking opportunities available. Ideally, the event or class is somewhere you can actively engage with classmates, participate in group discussions, and seek opportunities for collaborations.




Use Social Media and Online Communities

Platforms like LinkedIn, professional Facebook groups, or industry-specific forums provide opportunities to connect with professionals that are not in your immediate geographical area who share similar interests and goals. It’s not the same as face-to-face, but can still allow you the potential to collaborate on projects or gain new career opportunities, as the pool of expertise available online is often greater and more accessible than in person. It opens the door to more opportunity either directly through contacts or indirectly by finding out about events where you can make new connections. Whether it's a private DM to a person you’d like to connect with, or sharing your knowledge on your area of expertise in a way that could help others, demonstrating your expertise, professionalism, and active involvement within these online communities can enhance your reputation and visibility, potentially leading to career advancements and professional growth in the long run.



Be Brave

If the very thought of attending social events or working closely with a team makes you feel nervous, you’re not alone! Around 7% of adults in the western world experience social anxiety in any 12 month period. That’s around 1.8 million Australians or 15 million Americans.

To overcome this, you can start by admitting to yourself that you feel that way and realising many others feel this way as well – tick. We just did that! You can then gradually introduce yourself into new social interactions, starting with low-pressure situations like, for example an informal team lunch, casual coffee breaks, or small group discussions.  

It also helps to remind yourself of your strengths and the value you bring to the team or social event. In other words, think about the good things about yourself.

Getting a little outside of your comfort zone to attend social events and collaborate in teams, even if you only do this a little at a time, allows you to expand your skills, build up confidence, and establish meaningful connections that will benefit both your personal and professional life.

It’s worth it.




Make an Effort to Stay Connected

Keep in touch. Depending on the nature of the friendship, this could be via email, phonecall, sharing an update on social media, or simply catching up over a coffee (see previous point). The key is active listening and showing genuine interest in your friend’s life and experiences. Celebrating milestones, remembering important dates (put them in your calendar), sending thoughtful messages, or giving them introductions or referrals for projects or jobs will help you maintain communication and positive connection. It sounds like a lot of time and effort, but really, it’s not. Messages or meetups do not have to be lengthy or frequent. The length of time you know each other and the quality of your interactions over time are what help you develop long-lasting professional relationships.  




Be Respectful and Patient

Generally, people like feeling valued, heard/understood, and respected. Active listening, which we keep referring to in this article, will take you a long way in showing respect for another person. Showing empathy and treating your new connection with dignity are the final ingredients you need to create a sense of respect and a positive foundation for interactions. Even if their perspective is not yours, trying to see their point of view and expressing this will do wonders in your connection. Also remember to show appreciation for their input, give them space when needed, and be mindful of personal and professional boundaries.



Give it Time

And now just let it simmer. Sooner or later the opportunities will come, as long as you know each other and remember the quality and consistency of your interactions. Building friendships takes time and effort. It's essential to be patient, authentic, and consistent in your interactions. Not every workplace connection will turn into a deep friendship, but by investing in relationships and nurturing connections, you can form meaningful connections that may benefit both your personal and professional life.



Having friends, not just in high places, but in places different to yours is beneficial to you and for them. It allows more opportunities to flow to you both personally and in terms of career. Humans are social animals and social connection is an innate part of our lives that we depend on.

While it's more difficult now than ever before to create and maintain social connections, it’s still possible if you want them. If you’re naturally a social butterfly, you can just go ahead and use any of the tools listed above. If you’re more introverted, like Dr Zeltser himself, have a look at our Be Brave and Social Media sections, as they’re a great place to start.

The most important keys to building those connections is putting yourself out there into social settings (online or in person), active listening, and just being genuine by giving others referrals or opportunities, which over time, give you reciprocal opportunities as well as the reputation of being trustworthy and approachable. So, embrace the opportunities to expand your social circle, and enjoy the rewards that come with your new friendships. Plus, it feels really good.

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