O Mighty Captain of Scripts for the Awkward,
I consider myself to be fairly socially skilled, if introverted, but one place where I’m completely socially awkward is at work. I’m the person who gets skewered by all the career advice that says, “You think you can just sit in your office and work hard and you will get ahead! You need to build relationships!”
I recently started a new job and have been trying to get better at this. When I hear my coworkers talking in the communal office area I come out of my office and (awkwardly) insert myself into the conversation. When I run into someone in the kitchen, I will say hello and engage in small talk about weekend plans, etc. But clearly I am not doing enough because today my coworkers (who struck up a hallway conversation outside my office door) joked about how I am always in my office! and Never come out for sunlight! etc.
I have seen advice to take coworkers out to lunch to get to know them better and stuff, but there’s literally 8 people in our office and no one does this, singles out one other person to go to lunch. Sometimes we will all go out to lunch and I feel like I make decent conversation then.
Friends I’ve discussed with have said it’s totally normal to stop by someone’s office and start talking about random non-work things, but this seems SO awkward to me, plus rude. I don’t like when people interrupt my work to talk about nothing!
Am I jeopardizing my career by not being more, um, network-y? Is there a way to do this without being so super awkward about it?
Awkward at Work
Dear Awkward At Work:
It’s true that having friendly and positive relationships with coworkers can help your career, but cut yourself some slack. This is a very new job. You will get to know these people and they will get to know you with some more time, and I do not think you have to take any special steps to “network” right now. You’re doing all the right stuff. If everyone goes out to lunch? Go and have a good time. Once every couple of weeks or so, be the person who suggests that everyone goes out to lunch (which lets people know that you like seeing them). Try to remember the names of people’s spouses, kids, dogs, hobbies, etc. I think your coworker’s jokes (which they are 99% aware you can hear) are a way of saying “We like you! We want you to feel welcome here!” rather than a criticism.
My friend recently did something cool at her workplace by instituting Afternoon Tea Break. Once a week, at 3:00 or so in the afternoon, everyone is invited to bring their mugs into the break area and catch up for a little while while drinking tea. I think she bought a couple different cool teas for people to try, and she brought a snack the first time or two but now they rotate who does that. It’s just a 15-20 minute “let’s chill out and relieve stress and catch up with each other” thing. She was nervous that no one would show up at first, but it’s been a pretty rousing success. Maybe when you’ve been there a little while longer you could try something similar.
It’s okay to want to do your work socializing in a more structured way and be left alone to work the rest of the time. Over time you’ll figure out who you feel comfortable with and who you have more in common with than work, but right now just be friendly when you do run into people or they do drop by your office, show up to work lunches and parties, and don’t worry about the rest.
Introvert fist bump!