To nail that big promotion, you might want to get to know your colleagues better. Studies show that workplace friendships not only can increase job satisfaction and decrease stress, but can also boost productivity and job commitment. "Top employees don't produce results in a vacuum," says Marie McIntyre, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics. Take these steps to cultivate valuable, authentic relationships—and turn co-workers into co-conspirators.
Move in the Right Circles
Avoid aligning yourself too closely with poor performers. "You want to build your brand and reputation by associating with hard workers," says Philadelphia executive coach Julie Cohen. Better yet, says McIntyre: Create an "influence map"—a short list of employees within and outside your department who could have a positive impact on your career. Assess which of these relationships need nurturing and target your efforts. Cozying up with a peer in HR, for example, can be very valuable; though he may not have decision-making power, he'll know when a high-profile job opens.
Take It to The Next Level
Attending the happy hour will help you build camaraderie, but meet with key co-workers one on one to establish deeper connections, says Peggy Klaus, executive coach and author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills. Start with lunch or coffee. For those you don't know well, you might say, "I'm interested in how your division works. Do you have 15 minutes to chat over a latte?"
Since misery loves company, commiserating about work can also solidify a relationship. After a tense meeting, you might say, "That was a rough one! Do you have time for a debrief?" The trick is to avoid person-specific critiques and to steer the conversation in a positive direction, says Cohen.
Additionally, since helping others builds their loyalty, offer to cover for your pal when she's on vacation. And make sure you sing her praises in front of VIPs after a major win ("Did everyone notice how sales took off since Mary's campaign launched?").
Leverage the Relationships
By having high performers as pals, you'll know early about their high-profile projects. Offer to assist when you have relevant expertise so you can join in their successes.
Your friends can also help you nab the title and pay you want: Ask them to role-play negotiation conversations with you, suggests Spencer Harrison, professor at Boston College's Carroll School of Management. The office stars are likely to know best what the boss values.
Finally, keep in touch when your buddies move on, says Harrison. They might go work for a desirable employer one day, which will give you entrée there too.