Differences between Colleague vs. Peer (With Tips)

Updated September 30, 2022

Most people typically use the terms colleague and peer interchangeably to describe workplace relationships. Although they have certain similarities, there are some differences between both types of coworkers in their nature and scope. Understanding the differences between a colleague and a peer can help you manage your workplace relationships more effectively. In this article, we discuss colleague vs. peer, explain the importance of differentiating them, and provide helpful tips for building positive relationships in the workplace.

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Colleague vs. peer

Understanding colleague vs. peer can help you categorize other employees in your workplace appropriately. Some relevant differences between both terms include:


The term colleague refers to an individual you work with directly or indirectly in the same company. You may have different roles and responsibilities, but you interact during working hours and share the same workspace. For instance, if you're the general manager in an organization, the members of the sales team and other departmental managers are your colleagues. Colleagues can work on projects together, develop professional relationships that complement each other's skills, or create innovative solutions for problems in the organization.

Conversely, a peer refers to an individual who shares similar background or status, such as skill set, educational qualifications, or age. It also refers to a coworker with the same responsibility and salary as you. Peers often include coworkers and friends that you interact with occasionally. For example, if you work in an information technology (IT) company as a software developer, other software developers are your peers because you all work in the same company and have the same duties, skills, and salary.


An important factor in differentiating between a peer and a colleague is your position, job function, or location. A colleague is an individual you work with, irrespective of whether they share the same duties and responsibilities. Conversely, a peer is someone you know or work with who shares the same skills, status, and other unifying positions or attributes.


You can use your income level to identify if someone is your peer. Generally, colleagues have different incomes based on their functions and job titles. In comparison, peers typically have similar incomes, as they have the same title and perform similar or the same tasks. For example, if you work as a bank teller, your colleagues are the bank custodian, general manager, and accountant. Conversely, your peers are other bank tellers that share the same title and income as you.


Different skill sets are another factor that separates peers from colleagues in the workplace. Colleagues typically have unique skill sets to help achieve their team and project goals. In contrast, peers have general and similar skills common to their jobs. For instance, if you work as a store associate in a retail store, other store associates are your peers, as you often possess the same skill set in the workplace. In contrast, a manager with a different skill set is your colleague merely due to the working relationship you share.


In some instances, colleagues and peers share common relationships, such as educational qualifications. They may also have different relationships as life events occur and their skills and responsibilities grow. For instance, if your peer completes a training program and earns a certification, they can become your colleague if you don't have the same qualification. In addition, the type of relationship may also change based on their skills and career paths.

Related: Colleague vs. Coworker (With Examples for Different Contexts)

Importance of differentiating between a colleague and a peer

There are various instances where it's essential to understand the differences between a peer and colleague, such as:

When describing the relationship

It may be helpful to distinguish between the relationship type to help you provide context to the conversation. For example, suppose you refer to an individual as your peer in a conversation. The individual you're talking to may think that you mean the subject of the conversation shares the same skills as you or has an equal role to you in other ways.

Conversely, if you refer to them as colleagues, others may assume that you only share a working relationship. Differentiating between these terms can help you communicate better and help ensure others understand the nature of your relationships and how they impact your professional and personal life.

Related: 11 Types of Relationships at Work and Why They're Important

When studying your competitors

When identifying and studying your competitors, it's essential to understand the skill level of your colleagues and peers to know how to improve your skills and knowledge. For instance, if you have equal skills and qualifications with a peer, they may not teach you anything new. A colleague who's higher than you in the company can show you growth areas and offer insight into the necessary skills to develop to help you grow in the company.

For example, suppose you're a member of the marketing team and want to become a marketing manager. You can connect with your team manager to learn helpful tips on advancing to management roles.

When setting boundaries

Understanding your relationships with other employees in the workplace can help you set important professional boundaries. By identifying if an individual is your peer or colleague, you can define the extent of your relationship. For example, you may want to share personal information about your life, family, and friends with your peers and discuss only work-related topics with your colleagues. It's important to set boundaries to help you understand who to trust and reinforce your work and relationship expectations.

When assessing your potential

Defining your relationships in the workplace can help you make informed decisions when determining your career path. It can also help you decide if you require additional education or training to advance your career. For example, in an advertising firm, you can look at your peers to assess the team's responsibilities. This can help you identify skill sets or responsibilities which can help you appear unique from others. You can also assess the career paths of senior colleagues and decide if the path is suitable for you, including actions to take to get there.

Tips for building positive relationships

Here are some tips to help you build and maintain positive relationships in your workplace:

Communicate often

Effective communication is an essential part of building a positive relationship. Effective communication requires you to listen as much as you talk. Practise active listening when discussing with others and consider ideas from their perspective before responding. In addition to considering the opinions of others, it's helpful for you to attempt to understand their preferences and circumstances.

For example, if a colleague is experiencing a personal challenge, it's helpful to show them empathy, listen carefully, and monitor your interactions with them. You can also note non-verbal communication cues such as facial expressions and gestures. These cues may offer valuable insight that others may not communicate with words.

Related: Giving and Receiving Meaningful Peer Feedback (With Tips)

Be consistent and trustworthy

Trust is an essential element in any relationship. Before making promises to others, it's essential to ensure that you can complete the tasks within the allocated time. You can also earn the trust of others by offering assistance when they need it. It's helpful to act consistently when trying to build a relationship. Being supportive and consistent helps you appear dependable and trustworthy.

Related: How to Build Trust at Work and Improve Team Cohesion

Support other teammates

Supporting other team members is an excellent way of building a positive relationship with them. For instance, you can consider mentoring and educating younger and junior employees in the organization. Also, be complimentary towards other employees and focus on their achievements rather than their challenges. This helps you create a culture of goodwill and mutual support in the workplace and can help other employees respect you.

Remain positive in interactions

When faced with stress and overwhelming deadlines, it's essential to remain positive to help motivate other employees. Rather than worrying, consider encouraging yourself and other employees by offering inspiration and insight to continue working. Remaining calm and keeping a positive demeanour may help you become the person who others go to for guidance and assistance, helping you build good relationships.

Related: How to Maintain a Positive Attitude at Work and Home

Know the company guidelines

Understanding the company's rules and expectations for working relationships is useful. The guidelines and boundaries may vary based on the work culture. For instance, some companies may require employees to act formally, while others may foster a more casual work environment. Similarly, remember that professional relationships are different from personal relationships. If you don't know the company's guidelines, you can discuss them with your mentor or colleague and consult the human resources department.

Deliver quality work on time

In most cases, the quality of your work affects the duties and responsibilities of other employees. Submitting quality work on time is essential for building positive relationships. In addition, being punctual and submitting quality work demonstrates your professionalism and expertise. It also shows that you respect other employees and consider them when performing your responsibilities.

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