Based on the extensive original research I have conducted for more than a decade on workplace relationships, casual not close or best friendships are preferable in business. Caution should also be exercised against revealing too much or too soon to a co-worker, superior, subordinate, or mentor at work or in business. Yet friendship in business is crucial and beneficial. As a 42-year-old vice president at a Massachusetts bank put it, "Coworker friendships help job satisfaction, teamwork, and productivity."

Here are workplace and business friendship guidelines discussed in greater detail in my books, Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives (Hannacroix Creek Books, 1997) and Business Protocol (Wiley, 1991):
?nbsp; Adhere to the "three year" rule by only gradually letting a workplace or business acquaintanceship become a friendship; even then try to keep it a casual, non-intimate friendship.

?nbsp; Be careful if you are new at a job or in a novel situation, like a trade show or at a conference, and someone seems overly friendly or pumps you for too many intimate details about your personal life or about your business affairs.
?nbsp; Test out your business friend with "low risk" confidences to see your new friend's reliability - is something you share repeated to others? Are you finding references to your private comments mentioned in staff meetings? Does the new friendship seem equal and reciprocal or one-way?
?nbsp; You can be friendly in the workplace or in business, and have friends, without putting yourself or your job in jeopardy. As Marcia Londe, an Atlanta-based sales executive told me, "You don't have to spill your guts to be friends."
?nbsp; There are too many loose lips in business today. Here are four issues or items you should rarely if ever share with any friend, especially a work- or business-related friend:

1. Badmouthing or gossip especially about business associates, clients, or customers.

2. Anything you would not want repeated on the evening news or to read about in a newspaper.

3. The sexual prowess of your romantic partner as well as any former sexual liaisons.

4. Business confidences that would be unethical or indiscreet to reveal.

?nbsp; Watch out for harmful or destructive friendships. A hint that you are in a negative friendship? If, on more than one occasion, someone else says to you, "I need to talk to you about your friend so-and-so."
?nbsp; E-mail communications represent a new challenge to discretion in business friendships. Because there is something about e-mail that causes men and women to let down their guards, before you hit the "send" button on your computer, reread your e-mail message and make sure it is appropriate as a business communication.

When an Opposite-Sex Friendship Turn Into an Office Romance What about workplace friendships that turn into romance? If one or both parties are married to someone else, and it would be an inappropriate romantic relationship, for professional and ethical reasons, avoid such workplace situations.

But what if both parties are single and are at the same professional level? Find out what the rules are at your company about such a relationship. If your company allows it, and you can both handle it, fine; if not, one or both may have to consider moving to another department or even to another company if the romance gets very heated or if it ends.

If the romance is between a superior and subordinate, or with a mentor, even if the relationship is an appropriate one, because the status of the couple is unequal, you have to find out if your company will allow it. In my interviews about workplace romance, I found that most managers, as long as the workplace romance is an appropriate one -- both partners are single, unattached, and at the same level-- are only concerned that the romantic relationship does not hamper productivity. But if a manager were to find an employee wandering around the office building, just to catch a glimpse of his or her sweetheart, that would be a concern, not the romance itself.


Author's Bio: is a Connecticut-based sociologist, consultant, professional speaker, and author of 12 books including the award-winning Business Protocol (Wiley, 1991) and Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives (Hannacroix Creek Books, 1997, $22.95 hardcover,, available at local and on-line bookstores or by calling toll-free (800) 431-1579. (A Spanish language edition, La Amistad Hoy, is also available.)