U.S. Markets open in 3 hrs 38 mins

Why it Pays to Have a Work BFF

Nicole Williams

If you're one of the millions of professionals worldwide who work in a collaborative environment, lighthearted banter around the water cooler or catching up over a quick lunch break with colleagues are likely common occurrences. But according to LinkedIn's recent Relationships @Work study, it's important to take office camaraderie a step further and get to know your co-workers better. With workplace environments constantly changing, relationships with colleagues inside and outside the office have become critical in shaping company dynamics as well as individual job development.

The new study shines a light on a variety of workplace behaviors, from sacrificing friendships and climbing the career ladder, to overall work performance. Despite several key generational and cultural differences, the importance of relationships in the workplace remains clear -- nearly half (46 percent) of professionals report friendships with colleagues make them happier at work.

Like all important friendships, work relationships need to be nourished over time. Regardless of your title or the years of experience under your belt, finding ways to foster and maintain these relationships is key to ultimately driving career success. Bottom line, relationships matter; it's just important to know how to build, foster and sustain them throughout your career:

Ask the right questions. You may often hear there's no such thing as a dumb question; however, asking the right questions makes a lasting impression when building professional relationships. Before meeting with a new business associate, colleague or potential client, take advantage of tools such as LinkedIn to familiarize yourself with their background, experience and interests. A LinkedIn profile provides you with a wealth of knowledge. In addition to learning about a colleague's professional summary and experience, dive deeper into his or her volunteer experience and causes, endorsements, connections and articles and posts that he or she likes and comments on. The goal is to approach your first encounter equipped with informed questions, which will help establish a personal connection and ultimately lead to more meaningful conversations. Just think, if your new colleague's profile says he or she graduated from Columbia University, ask him or her about the courses he or she took or what his or her experience was like. By showing thoughtful interest, your possible work friend will be more invested in your new connection and you'll walk away feeling like you're building a strong foundation for a more impactful relationship.

Find the common thread. The key to maintaining relationships is finding a common connection that could potentially bind you throughout your career. Find shared interests from your professional and personal life to revisit and make it easy to relate to each other, whether it's your interest in running, your struggles with your baby sitter or your passion for the New England Patriots. We all like to be around people we can relate to. Many of us are lucky enough to love our jobs, but we all go through stressful moments where it's helpful to have a trusted work friend for support.

Sustain = reciprocate. Now that you've established and fostered the relationship, you need to proactively cultivate it. Even if you leave your job, it's important to maintain those professional contacts. LinkedIn's study shows that 51 percent of us stay in touch with our formal colleagues. While that number is strong, all of us should. Your professional network is indispensable and can produce potential opportunities. And it's not difficult; LinkedIn makes it easy to maintain professional connections and build your professional network with more than 300 million members worldwide.

No matter where you are in your career, relationships matter because they help us feel happy, motivated and connected. Take the time to get to know your colleagues. You're more likely to perform better at work and even increase your chances of being treated to a cup of coffee every once in a while.

Are you close friends or BFFs with your co-workers? Join the conversation by using #workbff across social media and sharing your work selfies with colleagues using the LinkedIn app's new mobile photo sharing feature.

Nicole Williams is the bestselling author of three books, the latest of which, "Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success," has been optioned by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, the producers behind the Academy Award winning films "American Beauty," "Milk" and "Silver Linings Playbook." Nicole is also LinkedIn's Career Expert. Nicole's role at LinkedIn is to help professionals understand how to enhance their careers using the LinkedIn network. The company she founded, WORKS by Nicole Williams, is the go-to resource for career-minded young women and was named one of Forbes magazine's Top 10 Career Websites for Women. You've seen her on TV -- as a regular guest on "TODAY," "Good Morning America," and CNN -- and in print, where her advice has appeared on the pages of ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire and the Wall Street Journal.

More From US News & World Report