Two friends were walking through a dense jungle. Knowing the dangers, they promised to stick together whatever happened.
Suddenly, a tiger appeared in the bushes. One friend immediately turned and ran, climbing up a tree and leaving his companion behind. He watched as his friend dropped to the ground and played dead.
The tiger approached, sniffed around and leaned down, seemingly whispering something in the man's ear. It roared once, then stalked away.
Feeling ashamed, the other man climbed back down the tree. "What did the tiger say to you?"
The man looked up. "He said, 'Never trust a false friend.'"
Some days, you just need to know you have a friend. You need to feel that someone "gets" you and is in your corner. With all the push, pull and tug that can go on in the workplace (and it happens everywhere, folks, even at the good places), you must develop your own support systems -- and friends can be invaluable. Good ones are like rocks; they keep us anchored during our personal storms.
You probably spend most of your waking hours at work, so friendships are natural. Working together can easily turn co-workers into best friends, making jobs more enjoyable and the workplace a home away from home instead of just a way to make a living.
But friendships need to be managed appropriately, just like every other workplace relationship. Follow these simple guidelines so neither your friendships nor your job is at risk.
-- Limit social chatter. Everyone chats a little at work, but don't let your friendly conversations overshadow your responsibilities. Stay focused on your job.
-- Keep private issues private. When you have problems to discuss, do it over lunch or after work.
-- Avoid gossip. Most of us love to talk about other people, but keep your natural inclination to share rumors about co-workers or managers in check. If colleagues realize you're gossiping about them, the backlash could be unpleasant.
-- Don't do each other's jobs. Pitching in to help a friend in a crunch is admirable, but keep it to a reasonable limit. Your manager is in charge of assignments and responsibilities, not you. Don't spend so much time helping a friend do his or her job that you neglect your own.
-- Include, don't exclude. You may prefer the company of your friend, but don't ignore the rest of your co-workers. Invite other co-workers to lunch, and include them in your conversations so they don't feel left out. You may even make new friends by expanding your circle at work.
Being there for another person can offer you huge rewards psychologically as well. After all, part of the joy of a good friendship is being there for the other person when life gets rough -- and it does get rough at times for everyone.
Keep in mind the words of Abraham Lincoln -- someone who often needed friends along the difficult path of his presidency: "The better part of one's life consists of one's friendships."
What is a friend? The following description of friendship was spotted on the wall of a doctor's office by a reader of Bits and Pieces magazine, where it was published some years ago. It was attributed to C. Raymond Beran, about whom little is known.
"Friends are people with whom you care to be yourself. Your soul can be naked with them. They ask you to put on nothing, only to be what you are. They do not want you to be better or worse. When you are with them, you feel like a prisoner feels who has been declared innocent. You do not have to be on your guard. You can say what you think, as long as it is genuinely you.
Friends understand those contradictions in your nature that lead others to misjudge you. With them you breathe freely. You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meannesses and absurdities, and in opening them up to friends, they are lost, dissolved on the white ocean of their loyalty.
"They understand. You do not have to be careful. You can abuse them, neglect them, tolerate them. Best of all, you can keep still with them. It does not matter. They like you. They understand. You can weep with them, sing with them, laugh with them, pray with them.
"Through it all -- and underneath -- they see, know, and love you.
"What is a friend? Just one, I repeat, with whom you dare to be yourself."
Mackay's Moral: The friendships you cultivate will help you grow.
(Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.)