This fall, Renee Bourdeaux draws on her expertise in psychological research and her experience as a college professor to offer tips on building strong relationships with academic colleagues. In addition to applying her academic knowledge, each week Renee will also offer a prayer and a practical exercise to help build community in academic settings. Read Post 1 here, and Post 2 here.
This Collegial Connections series has so far covered Hallway Connections and Meeting Connections. Now, with any luck (and, of course, with some guidance from God), the intentionality we used to engage our colleagues in the hallways and during meetings hopefully led us to developing some stronger friendships with our colleagues. Now, I’d like to share some of the research on how to maintain those friendships.
Relational Maintenance Theory (Canary & Stafford, 1992; Stafford, 2011; Stafford & Canary, 1991; Stafford, Dainton, & Haas, 2000) explains that there are seven maintenance behaviors (positivity, understanding, assurances, network, sharing tasks/activities, relationship talks, and self-disclosure) that are used to sustain various types of relationships. For friendships, though, start by focusing on these two maintenance behaviors: sharing tasks/activities and self-disclosure.
- Sharing Tasks/Activities: In week one of this series, we learned that friendship is driven by shared connections. When you and a colleague discover that you both share an interest in something, the next step is to plan something to do together. If you discover you both love movies, then you both pick a movie to see together. Or if you uncover that you both enjoy taking breaks throughout the day, then commit to taking a ten-minute walk around campus together at 2 every afternoon. Or if you learn that you both enjoy the deliciousness of a morning coffee, then schedule a 10 minute-chat at the campus coffeehouse once a week. By sharing activities, you not only share more time together to develop your friendship, but that additional time may allow you to find even more in common.
- Self-Disclosure: We also learned during week one that a defining characteristic of friendships is self-disclosure. So, it should be no surprise that the act of self-disclosure also works to strengthen and maintain the friendship. In order to keep and maintain friends, we have to regularly talk to our friends and tell them about ourselves. One tactic to do this might be taking a bit of time to disclose more about you if you see your colleagues in the hallways and during meetings. However, real, honest, and deep friendship talks (where you disclose even more) take more time than that. We each need to intentionally find the additional time to talk with our friends/colleagues. Dr. Gary Chapman in his books on the Five Love Languages explains that when we choose to love someone, it is a choice. If we choose to love our neighbor (a.k.a. colleague/friend) as He has called us to do, then we need to make the choice to find time to truly open-up and talk to them. Self-disclosure is a tool that helps us love others and maintain our friendships.
As C.S. Lewis (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949) states, “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life.” Friendships are amazing. They brighten our lives, and they make us feel a bit more whole. It is an amazing blessing when we are able to work with those we call friends. To keep and strengthen those friendships at work, we just need to continue to devote time to doing things together and taking the time to share more about ourselves with each other. Simply put, all it takes is a commitment of time to make your friendships blossom.
Week Three Prayer: Father, you have given us the gift of friendship. We ask that you help us to make the time to share activities and moments of heart-conversations with our friends at work. Please help us to easily find time in our schedules to dedicate to our friends, and inspire our friendship so that together we create a connection that strengthens us to do your work. Amen.
Week Three Challenge: In the next week, challenge yourself to commit time to your collegial friends at work. Make time to chat with a friend at work, and try to schedule something to do with a work friend.