• Coworkers are the peeps you work with at the company
  • Colleagues are your business contacts outside the organization
  • The relationships are complementary and both can benefit you
It’s mentioned tons of times during numerous chats with your circle of friends. You’ve also heard it a million times in side conversations while out in public. And they’re used virtually interchangeably.

A few of your friends use the term coworker during their weekly rants about office life. Usually, it’s about the office asshole or one of the many annoying AF employees. No matter the story, the term that is used most often is coworker.

Then there are other times outside of the office when you hear others using the term colleague in their sentences. Sometimes, it's for someone in their office and sometimes it’s for someone outside of work.

What’s the difference between the two?

Aren’t they pretty much the same term, referencing the same thing?

In some ways yes, but in other ways no.

They’re Similar But Different

You know when you have a friend that you know really well and hang out with, but they’re not your BFF? That’s a friend.

Then, there’s someone you know that you’ve met once before or even several times whether directly or via a mutual contact. That person is a friend that is outside of your social circle and someone that you’d never really hang out with. They’re just someone you know and are on friendly terms with - that’s an acquaintance.

See the subtle difference between the two?

They’re both friends. It’s just that one is a bit closer than the other.

This same kind of difference can be found between a coworker and a colleague.

Today, most people refer to fellow employees at work as coworkers. It could be someone on the same team as you, in the same department or division within the company. These are the people you interact with at the office. You share common company goals and even sometimes tasks if they are on the same team as you.

For people in your professional business network outside of the office or company, the term is going to be different. Since these folks don’t work at the same company as you, they’re not your coworkers anymore. These are your professional colleagues.

Colleagues are the people you have a professional relationship with, most typically in the same industry and field and maybe in the same type of functional roles. You may have a handful of colleagues that you work with on a regular basis. Other colleagues may only be a once-a-year meeting at an annual conference.

Coworker vs Colleague Relationships

Picture this: you're at happy hour, laughing it up with your coworkers and blowing off some steam. You and everyone else around you know all the ins and outs of the organization, bullshit office politics, huge amounts of bureaucratic red tape and of course who’s who in the organization. It’s full disclosure. Everything gets out in the open.

The same thing kinda happens at work too. What you say and do during the day has a significant influence on how your coworkers judge you. And everyone is being judged by everyone else. Every. Single. Day.

Your coworkers see a much deeper side of you more often than anybody else with the exception of your closest friends and family. This is why its so important that you manage your personal brand at work.

Your working relationships with coworkers at the office are supremely important. You have to build and maintain alliances at work so that you have others to back you up if and when you get thrown under the bus for some bullshit reason. Furthermore, these relationships are the foundation for your internal transfer or advancement in the organization.

On the other hand, relationships with colleagues are one or two degrees removed from the inner circle. Some of your colleagues may have some sense of how you operate at work, but most don’t know the specifics. For example, they probably don’t know about your fucking clueless executive that’s running the department. However, relationships with colleagues can be just as important as the ones with your coworkers in your building.

You may not interact with colleagues on a regular basis, but each one of these interactions can play a vital role in strengthening and extending your professional image in your business network to boost your career. Your industry colleagues are your eyes and ears for future opportunities. So, be smart and don’t do stupid shit that will fuck up your future career prospects.

Coworkers And Colleagues Are Complementary

Like other relationships in life, there can be varying levels of differences. Some relationships are quite distinct and don’t have much overlap or shared realms while others blend into one another.

The difference between a coworker and a colleague is one that is a bit of a contradiction. They have distinct characteristics that set them apart from one another and yet, they share much of the same fundamental features. It’s just that they operate in different spheres of your life.

The good news is that they aren’t mutually exclusive. They complement each other. And if you can manage both equally well, you’ll be much more likely to keep the good vibes going. So, remember the difference between them and use that knowledge to your benefit.

Feel Better,

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