Rebuilding Work Friendships Post-Lockdown

Rebuilding Work Friendships Post-Lockdown

We all know someone (or 20!) who made a career transition during the past year. They may have changed companies, or left our industry entirely. And for those you used to work with every day, that connection has been altered as well.

How do we transition back to those relationships, or do we?

In this rebroadcast of Virtual Lunch in the Exhibit Marketers Café, communications expert Bill Rawlins provides tips on how to:

  • Recognize the Three Expectations of Friendship
  • Deal with the loss of work friends
  • Restore relationships that have been on pause

Here are links mentioned during the interview:

About Bill Rawlins

Bill Rawlins
Bill Rawlins

Bill Rawlins is Stocker Professor Emeritus of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University. His published writings and classes examine the unique challenges of communicating in friendships across life, and how they accomplish well-being for individuals and communities. His two books on friendship, The Compass of Friendship: Narratives, Identities, and Dialogues (2009), and Friendship Matters: Communication, Dialectics, and the Life Course (1992), have received multiple awards and been referenced in numerous articles and textbooks addressing communication in personal and work relationships. Bill is frequently interviewed for publications throughout the world concerning friendship.


[00:00:00.480] - Marlys Arnold

You're listening to the Trade Show Insights podcast, Season 16, Episode seven.

[00:00:19.890] - Marlys Arnold

I'm your host, an exhibit marketing strategist, Marlys Arnold bringing you tools to improve your exhibit results on today's episode, brought to you by the Exhibit Marketers Cafe, we've got a rebroadcast of our virtual lunch with a communications expert sharing tips for how to rebuild work friendships post lockdown.

[00:01:03.660] - Marlys Arnold

Bill Rawlins is Stocker Professor Emeritus of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University. His published writings and classes examine the unique challenges of communicating and friendships across life and how they accomplish well-being for individuals and communities. His two books on friendship, the Compass of Friendship and Friendship Matters, have received multiple awards and been referenced in numerous articles and textbooks addressing communication and personal and work relationships.

[00:01:33.540] - Marlys Arnold

Bill is frequently interviewed for publications throughout the world concerning friendship and as I discovered last week on our conversation. He also plays in a band and his drum set was made just a few miles from my house. So talk about a small world. Bill, welcome to Virtual Lunch.

[00:01:51.010] - Bill Rawlins

Hi, Marlys. Glad to be here.

[00:01:53.610] - Marlys Arnold

Thanks. Well, let's start out and talk just a little bit about what what are some of the the overall factors or concepts of friendship, what are what are we talking about here?

[00:02:10.760] - Bill Rawlins

You know, I think that's a good place to start and thinking about friendship together. Ann. And I've studied friendship since nineteen seventy eight it's my life work. And I'm fascinated by it because it's such a such a unique relationship. Let me try to suggest some ways that friendship is unique.

[00:02:32.900] - Bill Rawlins

OK, first of all, you know, what's kind of interesting about friendship is it can be a freestanding relationship in and of itself. OK, so each of you can probably think of someone who your primary relationship with that person is that they are your friend. Maybe you made friends in high school or secondary school or college or you you made friends working, you know, in the events industry together. But you basically think of this person as a friend.

[00:03:04.210] - Bill Rawlins

But another thing about friendship is it can be a dimension of other relationships, so it can become a dimension of a relationship with a brother or a sister. Some of you may be thinking of some of your brothers, some of your sisters, primarily as a brother or sister. But then there may be one that you've actually become friends with. And that highlights, I think, one of the most significant aspects of friendship as an ongoing relationship, and that is that it's voluntary, it's based on choice.

[00:03:38.740] - Bill Rawlins

You can't make people be friends and you can't prevent people from being friends, OK. Now, contrast that with a variety of types of relationships that that we live in, in our lives. OK, I already mentioned family. You're always someone's brother or sister, you know, mother or father. But that doesn't mean that you become friends with them. In fact, a lot of us, maybe even during the pandemic, have realized that, you know, we've become friends with people in our family, that maybe we weren't prior to the pandemic.

[00:04:14.860] - Bill Rawlins

OK, so but anyway, kin is based on blood. Now, when you look at marriage, marriage is you choose your your spouse and your partner, but then it's typically sanctioned legally. It becomes a legal bond. It also becomes a religiously sanctioned bond. You can't just drift in and out of a marriage. You have to, in some religions, have it annulled and and have a divorce for the marriage to be over. OK, coworkers, many times relationships are governed by contracts, partnerships that keeps people in a co-working relationship when you look at friendship. It's always a matter of choice. It's always a matter of mutual choice, choosing each other. So that's that's an initial comment I would make Marlys.

[00:05:11.540] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and it's interesting. I actually came across and I'm sure you're probably aware of it, Olivet Nazarene University did a study on work friendships, I think. Let's see, back in twenty eighteen. And they said that 82 percent of the people that they surveyed had at least one work friend and the average was five work friends. And let's see, and sixty two percent of them said that they spent time together outside of work. So and I know I mostly I've worked on my own and been a solopreneur, but I know when I did have a job in a community of of other people, we did a lot of times we would go out after work and do things together.

[00:05:52.760] - Marlys Arnold

So I think that's one thing that's really people have really been missing this past year. And actually so here's that link for that research. And I think that that was one thing. In fact, that was the first article that I came across where I discovered your work and your thoughts was in the article in The Atlantic about how the pandemic has really changed the format of friendships. So talk a little bit more about that of how our our friends are changing now after this past year.

[00:06:27.650] - Bill Rawlins

Okay, that's a I mean, it's a very important question. What's I mean, what's important about what has happened during the pandemic, in my opinion, is that it kind of has made very, very clear certain things that we've always known about friendship, but maybe we haven't acknowledged, OK, and we're kind of compelled to acknowledge it now. And it goes like this. The friendships we have throughout life are very, very closely related to how your life is organized. So how is your life organized? For Marlys, you mentioned this notion of we make friends with people that we work with.

[00:07:11.040] - Bill Rawlins

Well, that's because many times at certain points in our lives, our life is organized around our work. You know, it's something we care about, it's something we're dedicated to, you know, and and we meet people there that share those dedications and goals. And so we become friends with them. OK, and now but here's the deal. I mean. If the way your life is organized changes, many times so does so does the people that you're able to be friends with change. Because your patterns of interaction are radically changed. I mean, a term that I like to use in thinking about this, especially during the pandemic. But it was true before the pandemic is what we might call functional proximity, where, I mean, you have someone that lives across the street from you or on the same floor in an apartment building and you hardly ever see them. And then you might have someone that you work with that actually lives in a different city. OK, but your paths crossed every day because of how your lives are organized.

[00:08:19.670] - Marlys Arnold


[00:08:20.670] - Bill Rawlins

The pandemic has changed that.

[00:08:22.520] - Marlys Arnold

Right. Well, and that's the thing. I mean, that's where, like you said, a lot of work friendships come from because you're spending most of your day with these people, working with them day in and day out. And so now not having been in that proximity. So the friendships are kind of shifting because I know, like for Alan and I, you mentioned neighborhood. Since Alan and I walk every day, we see different neighbors out about walking their dogs or working in their yards or whatever. We've gotten to know a lot of our neighbors so much better in the last year because we interact with them a lot more often. So it has changed. So what are some of the things I know you have, I don't know exactly what you call it. The three factors are the three the three elements of friendship. So can go over that for us, please.

[00:09:07.910] - Bill Rawlins

I will. But on the way there, I want to I want to pick on some pick up on something that you said just now that I think it's really important to think about Marlys. And then I will talk about what I call three expectations of close friendships.

[00:09:22.380] - Marlys Arnold


[00:09:22.820] - Bill Rawlins

But but here's the thing that I think we all want to recognize about our friendships. Friendships are always about something, about something. So one of the reasons why we make friends with people we work with is because we really are all about event planning. And this is something that we spend a lot of time learning about. And so we find other people that share that. And it's interesting, Marlys, because when I was thinking, since we've talked about this, you know, broadcast today, you know, I was thinking, well, what is something that people, you know, in the events industry care about?

[00:10:02.630] - Bill Rawlins

And that is I was thinking, how are we going to reinvent this after the pandemic and and in line with friendship, can we do this together? And I was so impressed listening to your opening remarks that, you know, you're already tuned in about that. This is something that maybe during the pandemic, we haven't been able to engage in the activities that we in some ways took for granted. They patterned our lives and suddenly they're completely disrupted. But and now we're concerned about will these opportunities ever come back? And one way we can actually both rekindle friendships and create possibilities is to talk together, imagine, meet and literally work together on that. So I was just I was really, really, really impressed with that. So but I also should mention to you that, you know, if, you know, we have close friendships and we have friendships we make it work. And sometimes the friendships that we've made at work are pretty well just about work. And if there's nothing else and the work goes away, they go away.

[00:11:18.980] - Bill Rawlins

And people understand that during these times. I hope they understand. Should I mention the three... Let me let me hear from you and then I'll mention the three.

[00:11:28.700] - Marlys Arnold

Yeah, well, I just want to talking about friendships and how friendships have changed, as Silvana has said hi to everybody from Sao Paulo, Brazil. So that's a perfect example of, you know, we've been able to make friends in completely new locations and friends that we wouldn't have connected with maybe otherwise during this time as well. So it really has it hasn't just eliminated friendships. It's also like for example, I know my my LinkedIn connections grew tremendously last year because I made a lot of new connections that a lot of the online conferences and things that I did. Let's see, Silvana has another comment, having more friends now and international ones, too. So nice. Marlys is one great friend now for me. Oh, thanks, Savannah. I consider you a friend now too.

[00:12:16.820] - Marlys Arnold

So and I look forward to someday having the opportunity to meet in person. But, you know, even if that doesn't happen, I still feel a bond with all these people that I've been meeting. So it really has been a whole eye-opener. I think for us that it's it's not so much you don't necessarily have to be in the same room with someone to consider them a friend. But like you said, there's got to be that common bond there somehow. So let's let's talk about oh, and Marco, who's from Italy. So again, another international. So says that's definitely true, what Silvana was saying. So, you know, the connections that we've all been able to build. But let's talk about those three elements again or we didn't get to before.

[00:13:00.950] - Bill Rawlins

Sure. And you know what I've what I've noticed in my research and, you know, Silvana and Marco, I'm very interested in your your international and intercultural perspectives. And that's wonderful that you've been able to connect Chuckat in St. Louis and Matt's in Chicago. You folks have been able to connect, OK, because it's something that you all share a dedication and an interest in. And that's that's a real gift of friendship. I think it's I think it's wonderful because because friendship can transcend differences for people focusing on what I mean, you know, focusing on common issues, common, common, what Aristotle once called a common good, something that we benefit from the three expectations that I've noticed across the life course. OK, once people have kind of a mature understanding of what friendship is, I have seen across the life course, you know, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood, later adulthood, three expectations of a close friend. The first one is somebody you can talk to. All right. And you know, someone who listens, takes your concerns seriously. You can talk with them. All right. And that's very important. The second one is someone you can depend on, OK. People use the phrase, this person is there for me. All right. What I know they're there for me. And and then the final one is joy. And friendship is a source of enjoyment. It's a source of pleasure. And I mean, I notice the, you know, the spirit of this of this, you know, Exhibit Marketers Cafe, you know, you're taking pleasure in each other's company, too. That's important as well.

[00:14:56.210] - Bill Rawlins

So somebody you can talk to, someone you can depend on and someone who you and you enjoy. Those are the three expectations. And here's what I would say Marlys, they persist across the life course, but the conditions under which people experiencing them can change drastically like we know very well during this pandemic.

[00:15:17.150] - Marlys Arnold

True, true. And Silvana says she agrees. And thanks to all my virtual friends, she said and that is true. I mean, like what you said, Bill, I think that Virtual Lunch has become like a support network or or almost therapy kind of for for those of us in the industry, because we've been able to have that. It's been that way that we could all come together and stay connected through the industry and then talking about all the different all the different issues that relate to all of us. But kind of on the flip side, let's see, and Marco has a comment here. Agree on what you say, Bill. I have many international colleagues who become friends too.

[00:15:58.670] - Bill Rawlins

Wow, good for you. Thank you.


Yeah, and I would say that a lot of my really good friends I've met through the events and meetings industry, I mean, that's really where where else just because I'm an entrepreneur through entrepreneur groups that I'm in online as well. So, you know, I think that having that common interest is a very important thing. So kind of taking that and flipping it a little bit. Obviously, in our industry, we've lost a lot of people. And they've gone somewhere else, they maybe maybe changed companies, but a lot of them have just completely left the industry or like in Alan's case, I mean, he he took what he thought was a three day weekend and ended up getting the call and say, don't come back on Monday. And so he didn't have a chance to say goodbye to the people that he was working with. So how do we what what can we do to try to either rebuild those friendships if we can reconnect with them or how to? It's like a grieving process, really. How do we go through that and and go forward? I know that's a big question.

[00:16:59.190] - Bill Rawlins

That's a good question, it's a very important question. I guess I'm going to say a couple of things, you know, one thing I'm going to say is that this pandemic has disrupted everybody's lives, some people more than others, and it's it's it it's I'm so deeply sorry about industries that are based on people getting together. I mean, you mentioned I was in a band. I have I have musicians I care about all over the world that are that are I mean, I know people that are internationally well-known musicians. They made their livelihood by touring and it is not happening. So this and the events industry, I mean, gollyday, the opportunity to, you know, to go to a really well managed trade show and to really to have hands on encounter with new products and people who understand what's special about them. So what I want to say then is. There's a sense in which I want people to realize that I think just about all of us. Say, speaking right now together on this broadcast. And elsewhere understand the extent of this disruption, I mean, we all understand it and part of friendship, closer friendship is a kind of an assumption of benevolence, which means, I mean, I've got close friends and I mean, I study friendship. It's my life's work. And I'm thinking of people I have not contacted in 15 months, OK?

[00:18:44.020] - Bill Rawlins

However, what I do know is I've written myself a note. It's been at the top of my list. It's dropped back down. It's made it back up. And hopefully this week I'll do it. I'm going to contact that guy. I'm going to make the effort. And the moment you make that effort, I think you realize that other people are really happy you made the effort and in some respects they wish they made the effort. It's this it's this because friendship, you know, I mean, there's one thing that I talk about Marlys, friendship. I think when people become close friends, they gift each other two freedoms. A freedom to depend. And that's that thing. I can depend on you. It's an expectation of friendship, a freedom to depend on me. Marlys we become close friends, you know, and and we and we say, look, if you need me, I'm here for you. All right? But the other freedom is to be independent. Like if you and I work together in Kansas City and I got a really good opportunity, you know, in Milan or something, you know, you would say you would say, look, I know you would love to work in Italy. You've got to do what's best for you. So that's the freedom to be independent. But if you need me, I'll be here for you.

[00:20:02.650] - Bill Rawlins

So what happens then during this pandemic is friends are being forced to exercise that freedom to be independent. It's almost almost a compulsory independence. But we also know that we can if we call on each other. There's a very good possibility that we're still there for each other and all it takes is reaching out. So the first thing I would say is reach out. It takes effort. You have to make the effort OK. And and and when you do that, assume that the other person is going to be glad that you did.

[00:20:37.080] - Bill Rawlins

Because think about yourself how pleased you would be if someone reached out to you to say, hey, Marlys, how you doing? You know, you've made yourself more available Marlys on this forum. But that's some initial thoughts. I hope they're helpful.

[00:20:54.990] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and that's true. I think that, like you said, so often, we think, well, you know, I don't want to bother this person or whatever. And you reach out and then you find out that maybe they've been thinking about you, too, and they just haven't taken time to reach out. And so they're so thankful that you made that effort. So and and it it really you know, it can be like you said, long periods of time can go by, but you can reconnect with this person and it just feels like you just kind of pick up where you left off. And ...

[00:21:25.080] - Bill Rawlins

Absolutely, that that's that's that's you know, some people say, I haven't talked to this person in two years and it felt like I just picked up the phone. I'd set down the phone back up again.

[00:21:37.080] - Marlys Arnold


[00:21:38.070] - Bill Rawlins

And this is special in that way.

[00:21:40.230] - Marlys Arnold

I was going to say, I think that would be the definition of a true friend when you've got that bond and that connection that way where you can just kind of pick up where you left off.

[00:21:48.960] - Bill Rawlins

I think that freedom lives at the heart of friendship. I think friends encourage each other and realize. Well, the other thing is that I wanted to mention is when I wrote The Compass of Friendship, one of the things that I learned in writing that book is that it's an ethical responsibility to continue to learn about your friends. OK, so say we're not close friends, but we worked together and now we realize darn you know, she's in a really tough part of the country or her industry has been especially hard hit by this pandemic. OK, how is that affecting her? I need to learn about that. And I want to and and then your close friends, you know, it's it's an ethical requirement to continue to learn about them. So what are they going through? Let's reach out and find out.

[00:22:46.590] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and I think Chuck has which by the way, Chuck is also in a band. But I think...

[00:22:52.860] - Bill Rawlins

Go Chuck!

[00:22:52.860] - Marlys Arnold

I think Chuck has a great comment.

[00:22:56.580] - Bill Rawlins

Is that a Taylor, are you playing a Taylor in that picture?

[00:22:59.040] - Marlys Arnold

Besides the fact that nothing gets you through Covid better than friends? Chuck, that is our quote of the day. I think that's true. I mean, you know, like I said, doing Virtual Lunch this past, well, now 13 months, it's really been I feel like a great way for us to stay in touch and to feel connected to each other. And Silvana says she absolutely agrees one hundred percent reach out.

[00:23:25.110] - Marlys Arnold

So, you know, I think it is so important. And, you know, I that's why I wanted to bring Bill to everyone today, because I feel like this is a great time to really think about how are we going to move forward with our friends, with our new friends in the industry that we're going to make once we all start getting back together in person and the new friends maybe that we've made over the past year or so. Bill, thank you again.

[00:23:52.290] - Bill Rawlins

I was wondering, Marlys, I just could I just mentioned two last things.

[00:23:57.030] - Marlys Arnold


[00:23:57.670] - Bill Rawlins

I, I really I really friendship always involves a risk. So think about these friendships that you made while you were able to pursue, you know, your event planning and your event promotion. Some of these people you worked with and you didn't make the choice to become friends and other people, you did. You went, well, there's something about this person. So you took the risk and said, hey, after we broke down the exhibit, you want to go to dinner? I know a good restaurant. You took the risk because you sense that you might could become friends. That's the exact same risk I'm asking you to take again right now and say, darn, I'm going to contact them, you know?

[00:24:44.950] - Marlys Arnold

That's really that's a really good way of looking at it. Yeah.

[00:24:48.730] - Bill Rawlins

And the other thing is don't put too much pressure on yourself, because one thing I've learned about friends during the pandemic is nobody wants to talk about the pandemic. We're all going through it. Let's talk about whatever comes up. We'll get to important things. Small talk leads to big talk. So don't put a lot of pressure on yourself. You'll find out there's still a lot there to build on.

[00:25:10.180] - Marlys Arnold

That. That's some great perspective. So, Bill, thank you again. I really appreciate you coming and sharing your lifetime worth of expertize on this subject. Thank you so much.

[00:25:20.884] - Bill Rawlins

Thank you,

[00:25:20.920] - Marlys Arnold

And we will see you next time, everybody.

[00:25:29.930] - Marlys Arnold

You can find all the links mentioned during our interview in this episode's show notes at, and if you'd like to join us for an upcoming virtual lunch, you'll find info on that at

[00:25:56.310] - Marlys Arnold

If you enjoyed today's episode and would like more, you can subscribe to the podcast and automatically receive future episodes on your chosen device, simply search for Trade Show Insights in Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or virtually anywhere else that podcasts are found. Then click the subscribe button. Trade Show Insights is protected by the Creative Commons copyright license. You may feel free to share this recording with colleagues or embedded on your own blog as long as it's shared in its entirety and is not used for commercial purposes.

[00:26:31.100] - Marlys Arnold

To learn more, please see the link in the sidebar, the show notes at Well, that's it for this episode of Trade Show Insights. Be sure to check out our show notes and archives at You can also connect with me using the social media links or the contact page on the site. I'm Marlys Arnold. Thanks for listening and be sure to join us next time for more tools to improve your exhibit results.


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