If you’ve been following Amelia’s story you’ll know she’s having trouble with her BFF at work. Amelia’s worried that she must’ve done something wrong to cause the rift, but her friend, Christina, isn’t saying what the issue is.

This is tricky territory for Amelia or any woman. She could find herself ‘out’ of her immediate female network, vulnerable to sabotage, or perhaps worst of all, have damaging ‘secrets’ revealed. It’s stressful stuff and potentially career limiting.

What about men? They have friendships at work too. Yes … but … there’s a difference.

Layer 22In my post ‘Sisterhood Rules’ I talked about the special nature of female friendships. Women form deeper emotional bonds with their friends than men do. Don’t get me wrong; men have close friendships too, but for women the emotions are deeper and the expectations of our friends are higher. At work the contrast between male and female relationships is even greater. At work women tend to have friends – men tend to be friendly.

Work friends have become increasingly important to women. If you’re a woman aged between 25 and 35, work is one of the most important sources of friendships, according to Girl Talk, a study by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC).

The competitive nature of workplaces ramps up the trick-o-meter for navigating female friendships, as the line between the professional and the personal blurs. You may be happily following the work rules, yet unwittingly trip up on a friendship rule. This might be what Amelia has done.

Power Dead Even Graphic v2If a female friend breaks the rules and things start to feel out of balance, the instinct to bring things back to a level playing field kicks in. Dr Pat Heim calls this the ‘Power Dead Even Rule’ – successful relationships maintain a balance between the individual’s relative self-esteem and power.

Here’s my take on the ‘Sisterhood Rules’ that help keep our relationships in balance.

We’re all equal

The female power culture in which we’re raised is flat. For men it’s okay for someone to be top dog, and women are likewise okay for a man to be top dog, but another woman behaving as if she is top dog might be classified as bossy, or a bitch. This gets a little tricky if you get promoted over a female colleague.

We boost each other’s self-esteem

If we think someone needs a boost, we’ll do or say something nice, and we reciprocate to make sure that the give and take is equal. Think about it – how many times do women comment on each other’s appearance? It’s almost automatic. Be careful if you’re receiving the compliment, for a lack of humility could backfire: your self-esteem may seem too high.

Layer 6We’re in it together

Women often bond through shared troubles. We take on the responsibility of protecting the victim – their enemy becomes our enemy. This is not so great, however, if you find yourself classified as the enemy.

We share confidences

Through sharing confidences women get a sense that they ‘know’ the other person, which is a key building block for relationships. Some confidences are safe to share with others without breaking the relationship, for example, that you’re feeling unwell. However, others are secrets, the sharing of which would be fatal to the relationship. It’s an unspoken rule that you’re supposed to know the difference.

Have you seen these rules in operation? Are there others that you would add?

Please share your thoughts and any constructive comments in the section below.