How can a person maintain good and appropriate work relationships with members of the opposite sex?

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“How can a person maintain good and appropriate work relationships with members of the opposite sex?” Ensign, Sept. 1992, 28–29

How can a person maintain good and appropriate work relationships with members of the opposite sex?

Victor L. Brown, Jr., president, Citrus Heights California Stake. Experience suggests there are two grand, eternal principles that, if obeyed, will permit us to enjoy friendships at work and be true to our covenants. First, there is opposition in all things; second, the works of righteousness are done in light. These are positive, freeing principles.

We should not fear office friendships as if they are the seedbed of wickedness. But we must ever remember that there is, according to the law of opposition, potential for good or bad in any association, whether in the home or the workplace or at church.

Without exception, when married individuals have come to me as their bishop or stake president to confess that they have fallen in love with someone at work, we have been able to retrace the trail of their fateful choices. Each crossroad and each deadly decision is clearly marked in retrospect. When these individuals were being enticed by opposing influences, they made their decisions in darkness—often literally, always figuratively.

People who choose to develop good, wholesome friendships conduct their activities in the light. Open and aboveboard, they “abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thes. 5:22.) They remember that any association contains the seeds of righteousness or wickedness, according to the choices of the people involved.

Within the ever-present realities of opposition and light, there are some basic guidelines to developing good workplace friendships. It may prove useful to review several kinds of friendships within the context of the higher principles already mentioned.

There are generally three types of relationships involving members of the opposite sex: civil, friendly, and affectionate. A civil relationship is one of courtesy, formality, and purposeful contacts. We interact according to clearly understood rules of propriety. For example, in the workplace our deportment is cordial and businesslike as we discuss the task at hand, such as selling the company’s product or service. We exchange pleasantries and yet maintain an expected professional distance and demeanor.

Naturally, some degree of sociability evolves among colleagues. But when normal sociability goes beyond civility and the courtesies appropriate to civility, the relationship becomes friendship. We seek the other person’s company and talk of many things. This is not wrong in itself, especially if both parties are single. For married individuals, however, a friendship with a member of the opposite sex must be carefully kept within proper emotional, social, and spiritual limits. The friendship must never exclude one or the other’s spouse or entail conversation and actions bordering on the affectionate level. If you are reluctant to tell your spouse about your “friend,” you are in danger of violating your covenants.

Affectionate associations are not appropriate at work, even when the two parties are single. Anyone who tries to justify affectionate conversations, private get-togethers, or touching the other person as essential to a better work relationship is deceiving himself or herself. And in today’s legal climate, such actions may make a person vulnerable to charges of sexual harassment.

How, then, do we maintain good and true associations at work? The safest way is to keep them civil, to remember our covenants of fidelity and purity, and to heed the promptings of the Spirit. (See 2 Ne. 32:5; Moro. 7:19.) Friendships, even appropriate ones, should remain fully in the light and, if we are married, should include our loved ones.