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!
98 thoughts on “#436: What can I do to get to know my coworkers better?”
LW, your “But clearly I am not doing enough” sounds like you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself to adapt to what others might (or might not) consider “enough”. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s lovely of you to try to be friendly with your coworkers and socialise as much as you’re comfortable, but there are no “rules” of what you have to do to be considered as someone who does “enough”. You sound like you are doing what you can and want and that’s great, so heads up!
Small suggestion, as a person who is bad at work small talk. Once a day or so when I could just send an email, instead I’ll walk over to their desk/office and talk to them in person. It’s a small thing but it’s much easier to get to know people with a little face-to-face talk.
I’m sure you are doing fine though, it can be hard to get to know new co-workers;
This is a fantastic suggestion. I actually started doing this because I have weak arms and I work with computers all day, so I needed the occasional break from typing. It took me a bit to realise this was good for me from the POV of being pretty anti-social.
This this this!!
Not only is it a more natural segway to some limited small talk, but it also prevents sending very short emails that can come off abrupt or unfriendly. Also if you time it with when you’re looking to refill your coffee/tea mug – there’s a natural entry way to further talking/bonding with coworkers.
Not to be the naysayer, but I HATE THIS SO MUCH. Especially in an open-plan office environment, where I can’t close my door so avoid interruptions. The kind of work I do involves a lot of concentration and if interrupted, I can lose hours of productivity. (This is made worse by the fact that I am often the only one in the office who does this kind of work, while other people have more social roles.) Some people love this, though, and while I hate, hate, hate when people do this to me (and in fact, actively avoid people who continue doing it even when I’ve politely asked them not to), I will do it with people who seem to like it. So, uh, be careful. Observe people’s preferences. Observe the culture and their reactions when you try this. And by all means, listen to them if they explicitly tell you a way they like to be communicated with (I am very open about my preferences but some people ignore them. Even if I like those people, sometimes I don’t like those people.)
It definitely depends on the kind of work the other person is doing at the time! And as an ice breaker, is contingent on doing it only occasionally!
I feel a LOT of sympathy for LW, as 1.) I’m socially awkward in much the same way, and 2.) I work in local government (public library), and I really feel like I have an obligation to be as productive as possible because Taxpayer Dollars!!!
I started doing this last year – as General Assortment suggests, just once a day or so, and never to the same people a couple of days in a row – as a way of trying to make myself seem more personable while also getting immediate feedback/resolution on small things. It’s worked wonders, and improved my relationship with my boss in particular considerably. And I don’t mind people doing it TO me when I’m, frex, on the reference desk, or in the stacks moving stuff around, but if I’m doing complex data entry or something that requires focus, in my office, I hate it with a seething passion.
I understand there is definitely a LIMIT to how often this should happen. I have co-workers I know hate being interupted, and ones that don’t mind a break to their monotony and I try to be respectful of preferences.
But it does provide a nice way to get to know people, and it feels more personal than an email but less disuptive to stopping by for ‘small talk’ (which I really hate).
General email rule (that I learned in buisness class) if it takes more than five sentences, then it isn’t fit to be an email. You should call the person, or shoot them an email asking them to talk to them in person.
Shooting an email to talk in person=win.
I never heard the five-sentence limit before, but that makes a LOT of sense! In fact it does sound like the unspoken (to me so far) norm in my office, too.
Thanks for making it explicit! *notes*
I would hazard a guess that the 5 sentence rule was created a long while ago by someone who started their business career before email was a thing, and still treats it as some kind of fad that gets in the way of “real work”. I often have to communicate detailed information to multiple people who can’t physically be in a meeting room right now, and shouldn’t have to be because it’s not that urgent. A detailed email has huge advantages in that everyone gets exactly the same information and can refer to it later if there are misunderstandings, and in that each person can read it and respond when they have the time instead of on my schedule. We can collaborate across time and space in a very cool, futuristic way. 🙂
However, I do keep finding occasional people who just do not have good reading or comprehension skills, and always want a verbal rundown of “just the gist of it”, usually days later when I’m deep in something else. If those people’s input is important, I’ll give them a verbal rundown right away, BUT I still send them the email and tell them the details are in there. It’s a fine line between respecting their communication preferences and enabling their laziness/incompetence.
“A detailed email has huge advantages in that everyone gets exactly the same information and can refer to it later if there are misunderstandings, and in that each person can read it and respond when they have the time instead of on my schedule.”
I totally agree – if it’s a detailed task, verbal conversation and interpretation could lead to confusion & getting things wrong. As someone who has attention span/memory issues, the idea of a complex email being explained in person (which has happened) would only end up with me missing out key details, such as dates, task order, anything that definitely must or or must not be done etc. If anything, I’d prefer it the other way around and be okay with emails under 5 sentences being verbalised. A one liner email, for example, barely seems worth typing.
It’s just a general guideline, not a hard & fast rule, the idea was just that if an concept is so technical, complicated, or unclear that it can’t be neatly tied into a paragraph, it’s either not fit to be an email, or you need to examine your writing style. (It was technically a business writing class.)
Of course emails are great for contacting large groups, and doing business over seas or across time-zones. But when a co-worker one floor down shoots me an question, and I find myself seven sentences into a response email with no closing statement in sight, it’s usually much simpler to walk over and talk to them in person.
Also, you can fit a surprising amount of information into five sentences. 😉
You have a very good point about fuzzy or technical bits. Often it’s better to speak directly to the person to be sure the two of you understand each other. I didn’t mean to sound dismissive or harsh about the origin of the rule, I just had such a clear picture in my head. But it does sound that way on re-reading, so I apologize.
I am touchy on the subject of email lately; that rule sounded like something my direct supervisor would try to hold people to. She recently got herself into an embarrassing mess by reading only the first part of an email I passed on to her that was meant to be confidential and blasting a panicked reply to the entire agency. Her solution was to stand up in the next staff meeting and tell us all that email is just a useless time suck and she was tired of dealing with it. Fortunately, we’re a small agency, everyone here is used to her and the director just nodded and ignored it. Unfortunately, we’re a small agency, everyone is used to her, and she will never be disciplined, trained, or fired for her ridiculous antics.
I also think that you should take further heart from the conversation outside your door because to me it sounds like they are stating through their gentle joking that they would *like* to know you better. Most likely with a bit more time they’ll get used to your ways and you’ll find as you get more comfortable that you are more able to get out in the office ‘sunlight’ – but also that you will all get used to one another’s style of working, so you won’t have to become some kind of workplace social diva. Try not to stress too much about one-size-fits-all career advice either – there are different ways of relationship building and networking; maybe you’ll eventually make stronger connections with less people rather than have a big pool of more casual connections. Maybe people will recommend you because you’re a great addition to a team (a group of all-extroverts is not necessarily a good thing!). Maybe some people will find your low-key approach refreshing and assume you’re unusually thoughtful and focused! What I mean is: there are lots of maybes. It sounds to me like you’re doing absolutely fine.
P.S. If you like to bake, homebaking left by the coffee machine to share = non-verbal relationship building! Plus then you can smalltalk about what the recipe was/your greatest baking disaster/etc. (Caveat: can trigger diet/body talk but I just ‘uh huh’ politely and move on to the time I made a banana brick because I picked up the not-self-raising flour. It was still tasty…)
Seconding the baking suggestion! I too am introverted, but every week or so I’d bake something like cupcakes or cookies and bring them in to work to share with everyone. It did a lot to break the ice, just talking with others about the recipe or even getting some requests over what to try out for next time! (You don’t have to take the requests, of course, but it was nice, at least for me, to know people were looking forward to what I was making.)
If you garden, bringing in produce to share works well, too. I often had a large bowl of fresh cherry tomatoes on my desk for anyone wandering by to snack on.
Also, I did something similar to your banana brick — I forgot to put in the baking soda. I dubbed the result “banana lead.” It was extremely high-density deliciousness!
LOL, banana lead. That’s great!
Baking is a great idea! Also, even if you don’t garden, bringing in a big bag of something like grapes or berries that you can easily share works, too. If you have people in your office trying to lose weight, they might not like pastry showing up on a weekly basis, but fresh fruit is healthy and a treat.
Tiny wee oranges my go-to right now. 😀 Those are always a hit at my office.
Fourthing the baking idea. I’m also someone who doesn’t mingle a lot, but I’m known for two things in my office: baking lemon bars and chocolate cupcakes, and having a big collection of action figures. People will actually bring their visiting kids by my desk to see them, and I’ve had total strangers from other departments stop and ask if they can look.
Another YES! to bringing in treats. Being the homemade cupcake lady made me a lot more popular at my last job, where I was a bit of a misfit socially.
Although I will say, I don’t know if I would want to be known as The Homemade Cupcake Lady if I was the only woman/one of few women in a male dominated environment, because I feel like it might cause people to perceive you as a stereotypical female caregiver, which is not really an asset when your job is making what-have-yous or selling thingamabobs… y’know?
I don’t know if this is relevant to the LW, it’s just something that’s been on my mind lately since I am about to begin training for a career in a very male-dominated field.
Good call. I’ve had to deal with “Jennifer, will you plan the holiday party?” and “Jennifer, will you decorate the office for Christmas?” when I was the only woman in the office and it sucks. Both times I said “I am sure I cannot make that a priority right now, but I’ll play rock paper scissors with the other (boy people with my same job title) for who has to do it.”
That is a fantastic answer! I may need to make use of this. I have so many “female” hobbies that I end up being the assumed all purpose mother-type-person at work.
I’m still hyper aware of this stuff & I really don’t encounter it any longer. I entered IT in the mid 80s, I can remember going to meetings and inevitably whenever a guy I didn’t know was there I’d get the “Can I have a cuppa coffee” request. I would pretend to misunderstand, by saying “I don’t drink coffee, thanks for asking & sit at the conf table”. Only once did a clueless guy reiterate, I was grateful to coworker saying to him, something like “dude, she’s a network admin not your secretary”. Of course now days, no one would treat secretaries like housekeepers anyway.
This is a really good point – I would definitely feel differently about baking in a different kind of office dynamic.
Hello my fellow introvert! I think you’re doing fine. I mean, you’re new, of course you don’t know anyone yet. It takes time, and that’s fine. You seem to be doing alright for yourself. I don’t think your co-worker’s joke was meant to hurt your feelings or skewer you for doing something wrong. I’m pretty sure you were meant to hear it, and it was meant more in the lines of “we’re impressed with your work ethic, don’t overwork yourself though.” So, a stamp of approval. Also, especially in a work environment, most people are willing to overlook a certain amount of social awkwardness as long as you’re doing your job competently. Don’t feel self-conscious about that. Keep going to lunches and chatting when you feel up to it and the rest will come.
The only other advice I have is to pay attention to what the others talk about. Sometimes offices develop a kind of culture where X is the thing (or one of the things) that everybody talks about. If yours is a football office, you don’t have to watch football, but you might want to at least look up who won last night and play if they do fantasy football. You don’t have to win or agonize over your choices, but you should participate. Likewise, if everybody in your office watches a certain popular TV show and talks about it, you can look up the cliff’s notes version of it over breakfast in the morning if you don’t want to watch it. Just keeping up to date on the things that are part of your office’s culture can really help you to talk to people and feel included.
This is definitely a good thing to keep an eye out for. I’d also say that you don’t have to make it a solitary thing for you to catch up or learn about whatever the office thing happens to be if you’re not already familiar. Telling your coworkers that you’re interested in the TV show but haven’t watched yet and asking them what their favorite episodes or characters are, or asking them what their favorite sports team/player is or whatever can be a good way to build a bit of a bond.
Yep! People loooove answering questions! And I personally find it really fun asking them too. Going into detail about someone’s favourite show you’ve never even heard of yet sounds like it could be an awesome conversation, for both parties. Bonus points if you remember the details (or some of them) the next time the two of you chat.
I know people say always say “people love talking about themselves” and I don’t think that’s always true (and is also harder to implement in a professional setting where a lot of personal topics are best avoided), but I *do* think that most people at least love talking about their favorite things, whether it’s TV shows or sports or music or whatever.
Your point about remembering details is a really good one, because I think there’s a lot to be said for *quality* of interaction and not just quantity. You can make as big an impact with less frequent/extended socializing if you remember details about previous conversations, I think.
A variation on being the one to suggest everyone goes out to lunch together could be to send round an email in the morning along the lines of ‘Anyone fancy going out for lunch today (at X time/for X affordable foodstuff/to X pretty local green space to eat sandwiches)?’ It doesn’t specifically target any individuals so you’re not singling anyone out, but you might get a slightly smaller group as some people will likely already have plans (I find it hard to get to know people in a big group). It’s also a bit more low key and less pressure than organising an 8 person lunch.
Some of the departments at my university do a “payday coffee” thing that sounds similar to the afternoon tea break. Somebody volunteers to show up in the morning 10 minutes early and put on a pot of coffee, everybody brings some food to share, and presto! Socializing among notoriously awkward academics!
Obviously all offices are difference (and particularly if yours is small, that’s going to have an impact), but I think there’s a general awareness by people that fostering relationships between coworkers is a tricky thing which can sometimes use a bit of help. It sounds like the only thing you might consider changing is to do something symbolic to “show willing”, like suggesting a tea-break or being the one who brings up lunch. If you give your coworkers some concrete indication that you like them and want to spend time with them and be included, they’ll probably take the social ball from there. The risk with introversion is accidentally making it seem like you want to be left alone when you don’t.
I’m with @painless — baking is the best way I’ve seen to really bond with officemates. The way it works in my office is, you bake something, leave it in a common area, then email your officemates. Then more extroverted people will approach you, ask for the recipe, compliment your baking, etc. I’ve never had any trouble with people making a fuss about diets etc.
This is also how I announced my pregnancy to my officemates (I’d already spoken privately with my management). I made some cupcakes or something (I don’t remember; it was a while ago) and in my email blast, I said something like, “Have a cupcake and celebrate that I’m expecting!” It was a great way to get the word out without having to accost people individually or send an awkward, food-unrelated email. Keep this in mind for personal announcements!
I thought of you when I saw the baking suggestion 🙂
Friending co-workers on FaceBook can give you the opportunity to make a friendly remark here and there without interrupting, if that’s something that people at your workplace do.
Maybe a putting-out-feelers email for a walking buddy or two for lunchtime exercise, if you’re into that?
I work at a college where friending coworkers on Facebook is pretty easy and relaxed and everyone totally understands that work is a separate sphere. We also “friend” each other after working together and liking each other for years, when there has been some socializing outside of work and we know we get along.
In a corporate environment, especially where I don’t know people well, I would not friend ANY coworkers on Facebook.
This is definitely a ymmv thing, but I would not choose to friend/accept friend requests from coworkers unless I also was truly friends with them outside of work. My reason for this is that I use Facebook as a personal space for exploration of ideas that matter to me. I don’t bitch about work or name names, but I do talk about politics and religion and display my general quirkiness, and I don’t want to mix that with my work environment.
My brother just got into trouble at work for a non-work-related FB post. It was political, not violent or hateful or even using bad language, but he works for a church that’s a little over-concerned about image. A friended coworker had to have complained about it, as he hasn’t friended other church members.
I would never recommend friending coworkers on FB until you’re actually friends with them, or you’re about to move on to a new job.
Walking buddies is a good idea. At a previous workplace, going out to eat during our half-hour lunch breaks wasn’t really an option so a group of us got in the habit of taking ten minutes to eat our brown-bag lunches, then going for a walk for the other twenty minutes. It became a very fluid group, anyone welcome to join, so you could walk and chat with different people each day.
I’m wary of facebook-friending coworkers, until I know them and the workplace dynamic well. One rather new coworker accepted a friend request from another coworker, not realizing that this person was kind of nosy and liked to have everyone know how much she knew about others. New coworker was thereafter greeted in the mornings by “I saw on your facebook last night…” in everyone’s hearing.
My office has workplace yoga and a walking group. I don’t do either, but it’s good because it’s actually two offices who interact *sometimes* but not often, and within our office there’s also two distinct departments as well.
I have two facebook accounts – one for professional use under my full name, and one for friends under a fairly easily identifiable pseudonym. Never shall the twain meet.
Keep Facebook for personal life – create a Linkedin profile for professional neworking and make connections there, it’s gotten pretty popular – basic is free.
I would/do keep Facebook for personal friends. Instead I’d suggest using Linkedin, it is a professional networking site and the basic profile is free and it’s pretty popular with recruiters (bonus if looking for a job). Most of my coworkers are on it because one guy sent out an email to our division to let us know it was available. It’s a nice way to keep up with coworkers.
I think you sound nice. I myself have very mixed feelings about people coming into the office to chat–I like the break and friendliness, but I hate to be distracted mid-whatever I’m doing, especially if I’m doing something that’s difficult for me. So, I appreciate your thoughtfulness where interruption is concerned!
My favorite ways to office-bond are to arrange happy hours, to bring snacks, and to send amusing Emails.
Emails: mostly of the “saw this and thought of our conversation the other day” variety. These allow a little levity in the day and a little insight into your personality, and allow reader and sender to enjoy them at their convenience.
Snacks: My friends and I cook a lot, so I often have sweets to give away. Sometimes instead of putting treats in breakroom for everyone, I’ll go door to door and ask if anyone wants any of whatever I’m holding, and then chat if they seem inclined. It’s harder to mind the interruption if there is delicious food involved.
Happy Hour: this is similar to advice above about lunches, but I prefer the happy hour because it exists entirely outside of work hours and is a predeterminedly social time. (I am very solitary on my lunches, although sometimes I’ll go out to lunch with sufficient advance notice). Drinks can be replaced with coffee/tea, depending on what is near your work and of interest.
My caveat here is to make specific invitations rather than just send out a “Who wants lunch/happy hour/tea?” Email. If you send out a mass message, some people might let it slide because they don’t know you well yet, and if no one comes, you’ll feel sad. Rather, try inviting all the coworkers in your department/age group/project/whatever to get to know each other better, or to celebrate a shared work goal. These people will probably come unless they’re busy, since you took the time to express interest in them personally.
There’s no deadline on this process. In my last job, it was 2 years before I knew everyone’s names at a place that employed around 25-30, many of whom had been there for decades, but plenty of newer people too. In the first year, I most often ate lunch alone with a book or outside among the trees (or at my desk, websurfing). Over the course of 2 years, I got to know people at sporadic potluck lunches and while waiting for the microwave and so on. Eventually, I started eating lunch semiregularly with kindred spirits of about 2-4 others. It takes time, and it’s okay to feel awkward and out of place, especially at the beginning.
Frankly, I too am an introvert and not a fan of small talk. Plus, it took me a long time to learn that I couldn’t go to someone else’s office on a work-related task without the requisite chitchat as part of the errand. It doesn’t have to take long, but people more often than not expect a personal inquiry or other social interaction, not just the question/request/instruction/what-have-you. Note that this doesn’t necessarily apply to supervisor-employee relationships, more for coworkers outside of the immediate chain of command. Plus, it took a while for me to learn how to smoothly segue from polite conversation to the task at hand (or vice versa) without coming off as too abrupt or whatever, and to gauge whether I was overstaying my welcome (not that this was a common hazard for me). Actually, I needed to employ these far more with visitors to my office space than the other way around.
In addition to paying attention to what people talk about in general, another aspect of office culture is based on demographics. My last job was dominated overwhelmingly by middle-aged, middle-class white women, with a scattering of men, younger women, and the rare person of color. Coming from a lower-class background and not fully identifying as either white or female (though I readily pass as female, white, and middle class), I often felt a disconnect if not outright alienation from my coworkers even in harmless small talk because of all of the unspoken assumptions of shared values, backgrounds, and experiences, despite similar political leanings and sense of mission. That added to my sense of awkwardness even after a couple of years.
A workspace dominated by women is going to tend to have different dynamics and social expectations than one dominated by men, and the more homogeneous the demographics of the office, the more likely that the social expectations will be more rigid and narrow. Is that a given? By no means, but in such contexts, the burden is overwhelmingly on the “outsider” to figure it out and conform, rather than the larger group accommodating and welcoming that difference (and reexaming the status quo).
It sounds like you’re taking the right approach, and people have offered good suggestions. Good luck settling into the job.
In my small office of 14, (when I started it was 6) we generally extend lunch invites across the office. It would be weird to just have lunch with one person because everyone knows and it’s just more awkward. Generally everyone gets invited and usually only a handful goes. I would suggest just inviting the office out to lunch sometimes, just say “hey I’m going ot check out that new sandwich/thai place” or “I’m grabbing a sandwich from subway, anyone want to tag along?” That way 1. no one has to make a plan, 2. it’s not necessarily personal, it’s just you doing a thing together, and if they don’t feel like it isn’t weird, 3. your office mates will know you are up for the occasional excursion and may include you in their own. Hell if everyone brings their lunch you could just say “I so need a break I’m eating in the break room today, anyone care to join me?”
I also 1000% General Assortment’s suggestion. My office is very casual so we very rarely send internal e-mails. Usually questions, or requests come in person. This usually turns to small talk and joking around and it gets everyone out of their office. So any internal business you can do by checking in face to face and having a quick chat is good. It also means you aren’t interrupting someone’s work JUST to chat. If you are very concerned about disrupting concentration you could always send a quick e-mail saying you wanted to have a quick chat about some things and that they should let you know when is a good time.
I also like to make it a point to say good morning to some of my coworkers. I usually grab my coffee and then stop by someone’s office and say hi and how they are doing and have a quick chat. (Or a long chat. I do go on.) But that way they probably aren’t too far into work at that point. As long as you pay attention to social cues ( like one word answers or turning away to do work) you wont be bothering them.
It took me a long time to get friendly with my coworkers. It’s a very tight knit group with lots of in jokes. I just find that taking any opportunity to be friendly and to get to know them has eventually lead to us having our OWN in jokes. Good luck!
I have a similar issue, in that I’m 6 months into a job and am having a hard time joining the social circle at my workplace (of about 10 other people). I don’t get vibes from anyone that they DISLIKE me, but my cubicle is kind of isolated from the rest of the group (not only is it on the outskirts of the block, but the walls are 4 feet higher on mine than the half-walls everyone else has) – so I’m 99% sure people just kind of forget I’m there…but it’s kind of hard not to get discouraged/assume it’s a personal slight when everyone goes for coffee and forgets to invite you, or takes a group photo for the newsletter and forgets to email you about it, or all leave en masse for a group meeting without you. It stings even more when a person who started 2 months after me (and somehow wound up with a centrally-located desk) has already been folded into the group.
I’m trying to think of ways to make this better without being weird or annoying, but it’s hard when I can’t just join conversations over my giant cubicle wall, and like the letter-writer I’m self-conscious about interrupting people while they’re working. I’m also the baby of the office – I’m 23, and the next-youngest person is 27, with the median age of the team being around 30.
I really want to feel like a ~part of the team~ at work, you know? I’ve asked my manager about getting my walls shortened, which would help slightly (only slightly, since I’m still a good 2 rows apart from the main group), and I’m trying to have at least one not-entirely-about-work conversation with someone every day, and I even asked a coworker if she wanted to walk across the street to Starbucks with me on Friday (she’d already gone) – but I’m not sure if I could be doing more or if what I’m already doing is making me look weird etc etc etc
Bonus suck: My full first name is two words, Name1 Name2, like “Lou Anne” or “Mary Lee,” and all but one of my coworkers shortens it to just “Name1.” I HATE this, but even my bosses do it, and my work email address is name1.surname@company (I asked HR and they said it’d be a huge hassle to change), so I don’t think there’s much I can do except keep signing my emails with my actual first name and hope people don’t assume the second part is my surname and I’m being overly-formal with them 24/7.
I’ve had a similar problem with names; it’s easy to mishear mine and and I get called any of half a dozen names which are NOT MINE GAH. I politely correct people when they get it wrong (“So, Mary, can you -” “It’s Mary Lee. You were saying…?”), because a few moments of embarrassment is better than constant frustration and irritation. The only time I let it go was with a boss who intimidated me. Generally people are mortified to be using the wrong name, which is a good reminder in the future.
And don’t assume that they know! I had a professor call me “Reemy” for an entire term, even though I corrected her several times in class. Eventually I stopped correcting her, shrugged it off as best I could, and joked about her inability to hear/remember correctly with my friends in the department. However, I got a little snippy with someone else in the class who called me “Reemy”, and she was shocked to find out that my name was “Remy”, and apologized immediately when I thought she’d been doing it on purpose.
People also call me “Romy”, “Ramie”, “Randy”, “Renee”, “Emmy”, “Debbie”, and so forth. I’ve taken to spelling it whenever I’m asked what it is, and giving a signifier, “like the drink”, automatically. Works fine when it works. Other people give me an odd look, have never heard of the cognac (which I don’t drink) or the X-Man (which I don’t watch) or Remington Steele (which I don’t watch, and which my name is NOT short for), and then still misspell or mispronounce it. *sigh*
I have a hard to pronounce, hard to spell name too, and I used to be very easy-going about whether people got it right or not.
Then I noticed that there’s a correlation: when I correct people once or twice and they don’t get it right after that (assuming they are actually capable of pronouncing it – like I’ve heard them get it right one time) then those are usually the people who will disrespect me in other ways too. The nightmare medical professionals, the clueless managers, the friends most deserving of an African Violet.
So since then I’ve been more of a hard-ass about correcting people, and paid closer attention to who does and doesn’t make the effort.
Thank you to Doctor Nightmare, the psychiatrist from hell, for teaching me that one. I will never forget your wise words, “You told me not to worry about it!”
I have the irritating problem that customers calling ask for my name, and when I tell them, immediately use a shortened version, which I find incredibly annoying. Among people I know socially to any degree, I’ll answer to the shortened one because I’m laid back about it, but I get aggrieved if I give my name to a customer and they presume they can shorten it without asking. However, I can’t call them on it, though I do have an awesome manager that, if someone asks for me by a shortened name, will reiterate my proper name for them, so that’s pretty cool
I feel your frustration, I have an easily misheard name too. That’s my preferred solution too, I find it causes the least amount of hurt feelings or awkwardness.
I used to get really irritated when people called me by the wrong name, especially since my first AND last name are slightly unusual alternate spellings of common English names so I have the misspelling issue too. And I have a mild speech impediment that makes enunciating clearly a bit more difficult, and even more so when I’m upset or stressed. (Such as when I’m annoyed by someone saying my name wrong…) I started going by a more difficult to misunderstand diminutive of my name. I don’t like it as much as my real name, but it did cut down on that frustration so I’ve found it to be a bit of an improvement.
I had a friend in high school who was a recent immigrant, and he had a fairly simple name, although it’s not a name commonly heard in this part of the world. But he was the kind of person who hated to inconvenience anyone, so if he introduced himself and the person didn’t understand him or got it wrong he would just say, “nevermind, just call me (super WASPy name).”
One of the Russian boys (brothers) works the phones. His name is Artem and I only recently realised that he just tells people it’s Tim! We’ve had quite a few immigrants working there though so within the staff we’ve been pretty good about foreign names – just right now I think we’ve got six or seven immigrants in a department of 25 or so.
OMG yes. You can probably tell I’ve got quite the hard-to-pronounce-if-you’re-reading-it name as well. It’s super common in Ireland, thankfully, but as soon as I’m anywhere else I have to explain how to say my name, oh, a bunch of times every day. And since I’m in an LDR with someone from outside the country, that makes up a lot of my time! I tend to just go for a friendly “Don’t worry, nobody knows how to pronounce my name- it’s EEE-fah, rhymes with TREE-fah”, and if they’re awkward about it a wry “I’ve been called worse than *mispronounciation* in my time, don’t worry!” always goes down well.
Ugh, I had a similar experience with the office email address. At my company, we operate under public-facing nicknames; some people (usually not in customer service) use their own first names, and some of the execs use their last names, but most people have at least two: their legal name and their work nickname (and maybe a personal nickname that isn’t either).
I joined the company as a temp, and I didn’t get the usual full-time employee onboarding experience until I went permanent after 3 months. So my email was set to LegalLastname@company.com, not WorkNickname@company. And so were a number of other internal tools. The people who knew me from my day-to-day work didn’t know what my email address was (why it was different than almost everyone else’s), and plenty of emails intended for me got lost or had to be resent. They’d get email from me, and not know (until they got to my signature) who’d sent it. Basically, a lot of “Who’s LegalLastname??” that made my identity as a coworker kind of weird. And that’s not even touching the infrequent times when I had to exchange direct email with customers and expose my legal last name — when we were using nicknames in part to prevent that loss of privacy!
Anyway, I championed the changeover to our work nicknames for my account and those of maybe half a dozen others who were stuck in the same position and wanted to fix it. It took… 2 years, or thereabouts. And once I had a friendly IT person on my side, I found out that it wasn’t really that big a deal technically. Just kind of a PITA from the administrative side. (Much less than the PITA I was being as a squeaky wheel.) Depending on how your company’s set up, you might have to settle for Firstname1-Firstname2@ or Firstname1Firstname2@ or Firstname1.Firstname2@ and see that reflected across company records. If that’s not exaaaactly your legal name, it could have unexpected consequences, BUT whoever’s in charge of this stuff will have to do the same thing for anyone who changes their name (gets married, gets divorced, has gender reassignment, whatever), so there should be a way. In the meantime, see if you can get your email display name changed, so that even if your address is still Firstname1@, you’ll pop up in inboxes as Firstname1 Firstname2 or Firstname1 Firstname2 Lastname.
I had that experience with a role, and thought it was my own fault till others joined and had the same issue. It’s pretty bad the way they keep missing you out, though, and I wouldn’t go assuming it’s automatically because you’re doing something wrong. it may just be that those other 9/10 people are not your sort of people, or it may be just simply be down to the physical barrier of the cubicle.
A couple of things:
You can’t join in conversations over the wall… so, why not, when they are having interesting conversations across the office that aren’t personal but about something going on in the world that you have an opinion on, just get up – as if you’re sorting something on your desk, or going to the bathroom – and as you walk by, or make eye contact, add to the conversation “oh yeah, I heard about xxx and thought it was xxx, too”?
Do you know what the others in your team are working on, what their specialisms are? Have you seen any links or news relating to their work they might find useful? Email it on, and say just that – “I saw this article on x, and I thought it might be helpful/useful/informative for your work on x,” etc.
Also, the bakery thing already mentioned might be of use to you – take in sweets/fruit every couple weeks or once a month, and send an email around inviting people to come have something. After many years of office experience, I’ve found free food to be the most popular of attractions!
Anyway, it seems like you’re taking steps already to make yourself more aware. Congratulate yourself every time you manage to do one thing that helps you to get more sociable. Given that someone who started after you but got a better desk has been more included, it does sound like physical environment is potentially the main issue.
Oh dear, I am also familiar with this situation! I started a new job in a new country (where I did not speak the language as a first language), my desk was in a separate room from everyone else, and I was the youngest. There were only a few other people in my office and I wasn’t working with them directly and they already had relationships with each other and made no effort to include me. For instance, early on, they invited me out to lunch with them and then talked about people I didn’t know and cultural markers I wasn’t familiar with (I couldn’t completely follow the conversation since it was in my second language in an accent I didn’t recognize) and no one asked me anything or made any effort to include me (even though there were only 4 of us at the lunch). I later realized that this was partly cultural and partly because a couple of them were kinda jerks. Luckily later some other people got put at desks in the room where I was and they were awesome! But for a couple months it was hell.
I think asking people if they want to get starbucks with you or other little things like that is a great idea. That way you can talk to people individually and then you won’t feel so awkward when you try to jump into a group conversation if there’s someone you feel more comfortable with in it.
I don’t think it would be a bad idea to subtly let your coworkers know that you want to be included, because they might think you don’t want to join in and slowly you are becoming “weird cubicle girl/guy”. By this I mean if you are, for example, leaving your cubicle to come join a conversation, you could say something like, “Hey, sounds like you guys are having fun over here! What’s going on?” or just making a joke about it like, “Hey anyone wanna go to Starbucks? I’m getting bored staring at the wall in my cubicle and need some fresh air!”
For me I know the part that was hardest for me was not isolating more and more when I felt excluded, so letting people know you want to be included is important.
“Hey anyone wanna go to Starbucks? I’m getting bored staring at the wall in my cubicle and need some fresh air!”
That is a really good one to use – it’s friendly, open, non-committal, and in a lot of work environments is probably echoing what at least some of your work colleagues feel like.
Can you set your own email signature? If you can then you could set up a automatic formal signature below a demarcation line with first name, surname, job role, contact details, and then when you’re emailing your colleagues just sign off your first name eg ‘Mary Lee’ and maybe they’ll notice the difference between the two and realise you’re not being formal with them.
Also, depending on the construction, maybe you could ask to have one of the partitions of your cubicle removed altogether while you’re waiting for lower ones.
“who struck up a hallway conversation outside my office door”
That’s just passive aggressive. Years ago when I lived in the dorms, a group of dormmates gathered outside my door to do the exact same thing, and escalated it to joking about how they would aggressively confront me about it next time they saw me. It was really immature and uncalled for. Frankly, if your coworkers want you to interact with them, there is nothing at all stopping them from coming to you and extending sociable offers. If I were in this situation again, I might be hard pressed not to point that out to them.
I have nothing constructive to offer here. I am very like the LW. I do about the same level of work socializing as the LW, and I have the same feeling about stopping by offices (it’s rude and disruptive and don’t do it). So I’m the same level of misfit.
My advice is actually to work on your relationship with your boss, make sure he/she knows what you are working on and what you have accomplished and who you are working with. Face time with the boss can 1) give an impression of sociability to him/her and 2) cement his/her impression of your actual work. Those two things can counter balance your perceived lack of sociability in your co-workers.
I fucking hate office politics, which is what this is. Good luck with everything.
Wow, what an awful experience that must have been with your dormmates! Ugh, some people. 😦
I think the LW’s coworkers talking outside hir door could definitely be passive aggressive and intentionally ostracizing, but from the tone of the letter I get the impression that they’re teasing in a friendly way, trying to encourage LW to come socialize more. Perhaps they even feel like LW doesn’t like them and is showing that by not socializing more, depending on the workplace culture.
I definitely agree that it’s important to make a good impression with the boss, but I think it’s equally important to get along well with coworkers. Not that you have to be BFFs with everyone, but being friendly, approachable, and well liked will definitely help set you up for success.
(I’m using the general “you” here, not you specifically, goldenpeanut.)
From the phrasing of the letter, it’s not clear to me whether the coworkers were directly addressing the LW or not. I took it to mean that they were standing outside her/his closed door talking about her/him. It could just as well have meant that they were standing in her/his open door and talking to her/him. That does put a different light on the situation.
I think it’s equally important to get along well with coworkers.
Nobody said it wasn’t. The LW is clearly making overtures. My response below states my feelings on making overtures and having them deemed insufficient.
Depends on where you work for sure, but if you expect all offers to socialize or spontaneous friendly conversation to come from coworkers and never reciprocate, you can come off as pretty standoffish. If you couple that with the attitude that only your boss’s opinion matters at all, things can get downright chilly with your peers who notice.
At some offices I’m sure it doesn’t matter. In others, you could be pegged as a suck up or someone who thinks they are better than other people, and it can really hurt your career. I know it’s the kiss of death in my industry, and it took me too long to figure out. It would be preferable to my bosses to see me as happy and easygoing than with my nose to the grindstone and going the extra mile. It took me a long time to accept it, but now I enjoy the convivial atmosphere a great deal. And I learn and get more support and flexibility from my coworkers. So, I think a lot depends on the culture at work.
A lot of places the boss will ask other staff for opinions. Someone who’s only friendly to the boss can have that come up and kick them in the behind later.
I think you read something into my comments that wasn’t there. I never said all offers have to come from coworkers or that I advocate never reciprocating. The situation here is the LW makes casual chit-chat when she/he runs into people in communal areas, and yet people still say out loud, where she/he can hear it, but not to her/him directly, that she/he is not social enough. Clearly, this is a situation where the LW is making overtures, her/his coworkers are not satisfied, and they blame her/him for their lack of satisfaction rather than taking action themselves to get her/him out into the sunshine, as they put it.
I also never said that only the boss’s opinion matters. What I said was that a good relationship with the boss can counterbalance a perceived lack of sociability on the part of the co-workers.
It is a perceived lack of sociability. The LW is making overtures. She/he shouldn’t have to keep trying new things until her/his coworkers deem that she has hit the magical combination of overtures which indicate that she/he tried enough. She/he can’t change either their perceptions or their actions, all she/he can do is work additional angles.
I don’t think that anyone is saying that the LW has to make more social overtures to keep her job – but rather to advance in her industry it may be more important.
Some work cultures really value socializing and having a friendly vibe. Being friendly with coworkers can not only mean interest in an invitation lunch but for career development opportunities (working together on projects, being invited to networking events). In my current job, I am often sent as a representative of my office to various networking activities. Occasionally I am asked if I would like to take along another coworker – and unless I know I will benefit from the person with the most technical experience (which is very rare), I will ask to go with someone who’s company I enjoy. (Similarly, sometimes coworkers really don’t want to spend extra time out of the office at such events – and if we’re friendly, I’m more likely to know that and suggest someone else come instead).
Ultimately, being friends with coworkers isn’t necessary, but being perceived as being unsociable is something that I would try to fix at work. If it’s 6-12 months and it’s clear the coworkers are being passive aggressive/antagonistic – that’s one thing. But a few months in, I would try new tactics.
Yes, this is what I’m trying to say. In my business getting along socially is deemed at least as important as the quality of your work. I’m so glad I stuck with it because the cliques that used to be here were pretty jerky, empty headed, and sexist and it was really tough because I wasn’t ever going to fit in. Luckily, with new management and turnover the vibe is a lot friendlier and interesting, and I don’t stick out like a freak like I used to. I am perceived in a much better light, fair or not. Our bosses don’t care if we kiss their ass or does extra work, they care that there’s no pettiness or back biting going on that’s going to waste everybody’s energy and create ill feelings. But ymmv. In my industry, it’s pretty common and took me a long time to catch on.
The above commenter makes a good point about making a good impression with your boss, more so then your peers, if you’re concerned with career mobility. It’s important to get along with your peers in the workplace so your boss sees you as a team player and so you have a pleasant work environment. It’s not important to be their best friend.
One thing that happens a lot in my office, which is good on many levels, is that people share links/attachments to things that are of interest professionally. We are a communications team so sometimes it’s just a really creative video or web design. Other times it might be an article about best practices in our field. Whenever appropriate, I include my boss and whatever higher-level folks might be interested in it, too (but ONLY if it would be of interest to them). It shows that I’m always developing my skills, and also that I care about my coworkers’ professional development.
I hear you, LW! Workplace relationships can be HARD — I’ve been at my office for three years, and last week a longer-standing employee spoke to me for the very first time. And most of my colleagues are older women with children, so husbands, partners, children and diets are the main topics of conversation.
Anyway, I second the recommendation to share some kind of fancy tea and fruit or berry or something. I’m lactose intolerant and pre-diabetic, so a lot of the pastry-based treats that come into the office don’t suit me, but I think most people can have tea or fruit. I won a lot of friends in cherry season, for example.
This is an interesting one for me, in that I wonder how much I really have to be social at the office to do well in my career. I get along well with my coworkers and occasionally chat with them, and will usually go to lunch if asked (which isn’t often; not that I’m being left out, just no one goes out all that often and sometimes when they do it is in small groups; sometimes when I do it’s with just one coworker who is also a friend, and another friend in a different organization that I met through them). And I went to the office holiday potluck lunch and the 15-minute cake break to celebrate the anniversary of an affiliated organization that shares work space.
But I don’t go to the coffee break for the whole floor (several related organizations sharing space) or the building-wide holiday potluck or other group things during the workday, and I wouldn’t socialize with my coworkers outside of work unless it was an activity I also wanted to do for its own sake. I like my coworkers well enough, but – another introvert here – I’m already socially saturated; I have as many people in my life as I can keep up with. Also, my workplace is flexible about how we get our hours in. Meetings and similar commitment aside, I can come and go as I please and turn in my hours at the end of the week. I also am allowed to work through lunch, and usually do. I prefer this because it allows me to concentrate my work time as efficiently as possible, leaving me more non-work time for all the other things I also value.
I do love my job – I’m not just putting time in and waiting to leave, and from the comments I’ve gotten about my work, people understand that and see me as a hard worker and as very competent. But I definitely prefer to keep my work life and my social life mostly separate.
tl;dr – keeping work and social life separate is also fine – or at least I hope it is!
My mother always looked puzzled about the idea of going out socially with coworkers. She was spending 8 hours a day with them already!
My mom used to worry a bit that my dad didn’t socialize much – but since he’s retired, he sees his old work buddies for breakfast once a week or so. It was just that he saw enough of them at work when he was there!
Oh, and nth-ing on the baked goods/snacks! I’ve done that a couple times and it’s always appreciated!
Introverts Unite! In a very low-key way, obviously.
In every job I take, I find it hard to fit in because of the introversion, social anxiety and because I look younger (and somehow more innocent) than I am. it takes time, but I usually get there. You may find that just time helps to you to become a part of the team, but you sound like you’re going about it the right way – going to work socials, saying hello, joining in conversations. Those are all things that eventually helped me to become a part of it.
Although I have to say that speaking about someone right outside their door does not come across as normal office behaviour (unless it was done jokingly).
All the above suggestions are very very good, especially the baking one (or, for my level of catering skills – buying baked goods/sweets). I’ve seen others do it – bring in cakes/other goodies, put it on a desk nearby, and send an email around the whole team. This way, to get the food, colleagues have to come up to near your desk to get some food and usually a bit of small chat ensues, too.
Saying all that, I’d like to reiterate that it does sound as if you’re doing a really good job so far, in terms of work socialising 101. Keep it up.
Also, sometimes you will just not get along with people, that’s true of friendships but it’s also true of the work environment. In one job, I had a miserable experience,really couldn’t fit in & blamed myself – up until two new people were hired, whom I got on really well with, and who also didn’t get along with older colleagues there.
Also keep in mind perhaps that if people are willing to *joke* with you about your introversion, perhaps you’re already considered an approachable part of the group – you’re just “the introverted one” which is really really not the worst thing you could be (that would be the one everyone hopes *does* just stay in her office but they know s/he won’t). I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but it sort of looks like this happened:
Coworkers: “Ha ha, Fellow Coworker, you have emerged from your office cocoon! You need to come out more often and get some sunlight!”
Your Jerkbrain: They are correcting my behavior! My behavior was incorrect! I HAVE FAILED.
Correct Reaction: They are telling me to leave my office because they wish to see more of me. Achievement Unlocked!
This is definitely how I was reading it. I have definitely make “come out of your cave and see the sun” jokes to co-workers before, but only when I liked them (and generally when they were normally social but were stressed and overworked about a giant project, and I knew taking a 10 minute walk was something they wouldn’t give themselves permission to do, but would feel less stressed and more productive after). I try not to pick on people for being hardworking and/or introverted, but I would mildly tease to encourage someone to chill with us in the breakroom more.
I have to say, CA, I was hoping you were going to give some magic formula to fix this problem because I am the same way, but the advice you gave was so much realer and better.
I remember a summer internship I did straight out of college where everyone seemed really awesome, but I figured no one wanted to take the time to get to know me because I’d only be there for three months. I was so awkward about it, too, not wanting to bother people with caring about my existence. Luckily everyone else was really awesome and made me feel valued which helped me open up a bit and I made a bunch of friends! When I stopped by the office 2 years later a bunch of people remembered me and came over to hug me and exclaim over me. My boss from there also still helps me with contacts.
My point is, LW, I started out just like you: saying hi to people and making some little small talk so as not to be rude and making friends with people I felt I had a connection with. At another job (as I wrote in another comment above) that didn’t work so well, but it was mostly because some of the people I worked with were kinda jerks. So, yes, just have faith in yourself and your socializing abilities! You are doing great!
Also, I second the food thing. I made cupcakes for my boss’ birthday and then everyone was like “Who made the cupcakes?” and then came over and complimented me on them. It was a good way to talk to people I had never talked to before.
I too work in offices: however my office often changes, as I’m a contractor. I’m generally – if called into an office environment – in the role of troubleshooter / specialist so interpersonal skills (of which I have NONE) are never an issue. Often, I have to give bad news and hardcore criticism to people and really change their work habits: I work well in this role, cos in many ways I hate comfortable people, and believe in messing with their comfort zones as a way to improve their ways of thinking and productivity.
But enough about me: the only reason I’m telling you this is that I make a career of being the guy who never takes lunch, never joins the staff pub outings (until the project is done) and yet has to communicate a LOT with staff as a part of his job.
The very same traits that you describe in your attitude towards work have both stood to build my reputation *and* created a distance between myself and the workplace I’m in that – to be quite frank – is the reason I’m paid so well for the consultancy I do. The traits that you say prevent you from networking are in fact the *entire* network that I use to work: companies call me when they need someone who is *not* friends with everyone in the building, because everyone’s *too* friendly in the building, and nobody understands why such awesome employees are making such a garbage product.
So yeah: that’s about all I’m saying. The description above may make my life sound harsh and cold, like I’m some kind of corporate hitman but I’m not: I have a very rich life with my wife, we both freelance and work about 10 days per month.
My point is that rather than pour effort into interpersonal relationships at work which almost NEVER amount to any real form of anything – just cut your losses. Stop trying to be the type of person you work with – be yourself, and find the job that suits you. I have to be frank, I don’t see the value in friendships with people I’m forced to share a building with for 9-5 for a couple of weeks: instead, I focus on actual, real, rewarding relationships such as my marriage and my friendships and business partnerships.
It’s just another way of looking at things: cos I never baked an office cake in my life… and TBH I feel like I’ve profited massively from this fact. I just never wanted to interrelate at work… so I just never did.
Best of luck!
I think your approach to workplace culture is probably a big part of why you’re successful at what you do, but I don’t think that sort of approach would be a healthy way of dealing with coworkers in many fields.
I’m not working in an office environment these days, but when I worked as a receptionist it would have been career suicide for me to decide that, since I wasn’t instantly comfortable with my coworkers, it wasn’t worth building relationships with them. It’s true that they weren’t really my kind of people, but it was essential that I developed a friendly rapport with them.
Obviously we don’t know exactly what kind of work the LW does, but it sounds like zie wants to be friendlier with hir coworkers, which makes me think that zie works in a more social environment.
I’d agree with this. As a consultant having that distance is one thing, you’re being brought in to offer an outside perspective, but that’s not the kind of attitude that’s going to make people trust you or want to work with you on a long term basis as a regular coworker. It’s entirely possible to be friendly and personable and social without being ~zomg forever friends~ with co-workers. A happy medium can be had.
I’m a consultant. I do troubleshooting and change management and deliver technical solutions that often initially meet resistance. And I think this is TERRIBLE advice. I can’t imagine being remotely successful if I didn’t have excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to successfully socially navigate dramatically different work cultures. How do you successfully gather requirements? How do you identify the gaps between what people tell you in official meetings when there boss is watching and how they actually feel? How do you get buy-in in anyway but brute force?
I’m not saying your wrong for your situation and industry. But I AM saying you seem to have an oddly specific situation, but are presenting your success strategy as if it is global. I don’t think it is.
Sorry, but demolishing my experiences as wrong and inappropriate just seems to me to be the flipside of this ridiculous pressure this person is feeling to be friendly in the workplace.
All of these replies are just saying “well that may work for YOU but I’m guessing that…”
Well you’re correct: you *are* guessing. Guessing about my occupation and the OP’s – and your guesswork is all ending at the same place: be nice to people, cos there’s no other way to succeed. What you people consider “a happy medium” I consider HOURS of time wasted talking about nothing. I don’t consider it a happy medium at all.
Simply put: work is called work cos that’s what you’re supposed to do there. I was offering the OP an option that in my experience works: don’t talk with people all the time, and still be successful.
I know you’d all prefer everyone to take your approach, but there’s no need to demolish anything that doesn’t agree with your experiences. And as for “if I was a receptionist, that would be career suicide” – do I really have to answer this one?
To be quite frank, you all sound like the bullying managers and “work life balance” people from the last time I worked 9-5. This attitude of “be yourself… but not too much of yourself” is just a huge amount of corporate bullying IMHO.
Wow. This seems like an oddly aggressive response. I don’t think anyone was ‘bullying’ you, or telling you not to be yourself…?
Yep, absolutely. I think actually not being seen as ‘part of the team’ in the long run can be quite damaging to your job. I worked in a small, not particularly sociable, group last year and had to work quite hard to ensure people knew who I was and got on with me. It was work, for sure. But the effort will hopefully pay off when I interview with the company again or ask for references.
Obviously, it depends a lot on your job. There are situations where you don’t need to be friendly with the people you work with – Verbal Polygon seems to have one of those jobs! But it seems like the LW has a job where people do need to socialise with their coworkers, and I don’t think referring to that effort as ‘wasted time’ is helpful here.
Not bullying here, but this would be job killing advice in any creative office.
People need to develop a friendly rapport so they can collaborate and throw out, consider, and hone creative ideas without any fear. There are a few fearful individuals who report having no relationships to speak of and very little open communication with their cowokers and they are surprised people aren’t thrilled with their work. Hard to collaborate with people you really don’t want to talk to!
I don’t spend much time on extra socializing, but it’s not hard to get in a bit of friendly chat before or after meetings, etc. I appreciate it myself too, being treated as a bit more than units of work. I’ve been in the opposite situation, and it can be pretty stifling and lead to burn out.
Good luck! When I started my job I tried hard to socialize with my co-workers, always joining them at lunch and saying a friendly hello when I met them in the hallway. I wanted to make friends, but again and again they’d go out for lunch or other social events without inviting me. JUST me. It took over a year, but I finally gave up and just eat lunch alone in my office.
That depends a lot on your job and the industry too. I do web-sites and freelance a bit. I worked at this one agency where I didn’t socialise much because I always felt way too uncool to even be there, but when I worked on projects I was always friendly with my co-workers and project managers, and did a good job. I don’t think I ever even talked to the actual bosses.
And even though I wasn’t actually friends with anyone, I’ve got loads of referrals for freelance jobs since I’ve left there, so I obviously left them with a positive impression.
I am also an introvert, working in an office of 9 people currently. I have two main problems with office socializing. The first is that I don’t have time for it. I am an accountant. I usually work in small nonprofits, so I am usually the only person doing my job, even though there’s enough accounting work for one and a half or two, because too much ‘admin’ makes donors and funding agencies look down their nose at you. I am usually the only person with hard deadlines and regulations dictating how I do my work, and so in my experience usually the only person with anything like enough work to fill my day. My coworkers always want to socialize a lot more than I do, and seem to have plenty of free time to do it in. I don’t mind a few minutes here and there during the day, when someone shares a funny story or asks for suggestions on something personal. I initiate as many of those as anyone else, and even if I’m not interested I will smile and nod and ask a question or two. But taking a whole hour lunch just to chit-chat? No. Never. I eat my lunch at my desk, taking my legally mandated paid 15 minute break and looking at funny stories online. It’s my refresher and mental rest, and I don’t want to give any of it to someone else. As far as how to gracefully move someone along when they outstay their welcome, I gave up. With the one or two people who can’t seem to shut up, after we’ve covered anything important and I’ve given them a couple of minutes of pleasantries, I just go back to working when they next pause for breath. Either the rest of the group continues without me, or if they were standing in my doorway, they get tired of no feedback and go away. Not the best way to do it, I know, but some people won’t take a polite brush off. And if it’s the 3rd or 4th time today, I stop doing any pleasantries, and will make them stand there for a minute or so before even acknowledging their presence.
The second thing is that if I start spending too much time with most people, their various personality quirks and tics become too grating to shrug off, and I start to dislike them. And when they start revealing tmi about their personal lives I usually find out things that make me furious or disgusted. So being “anti-social” actually allows me to keep up a friendlier relationship with my coworkers than trying to be close. A shallow pleasantness is better than a deep connection and understanding in most cases; I have to keep working with these people and at least pretend respect for them.
I love my work. I find it pretty fascinating, even when I’m frantically trying to correct someone else’s horrific mistakes. And I believe that I owe my employer my very best efforts and as close to a full 8 hours as I can give them. But I don’t expect my job to be my whole life. It’s just one piece of it, and the most important aspect of the job overall is the paycheck that lets me support myself and my kids. If I need social outlets, I look for them elsewhere.
Wow, this is long. Sorry.
Very good advice as usual, just wanted to chime in to say that while being social is lovely and good for office morale and your ability to work with others, beware turning into the coworker who stops by just to chat mid-day while other people are trying to work. It can just open you up for awkwardness by putting your coworkers in the position to have to shoot down your attempts at conversation. When I was working at my first job and was the baby of the office and felt like everyone else was SO MUCH COOLER than I was, I got into the habit of making a loop through the office on my way in in the morning and my way out at night. People are probably just settling in at their desk to work or just shutting stuff down at night at that rate, so you’re less likely to inadvertently derail somebody’s train of thought, and it makes it easy to ask questions like “have any interesting plans for the evening?” or “did you do anything fun last night?” or “did you see the news/random TV show/etc. last night?” in a way that seems pretty natural.
All the advice here is very good I’m sure, but… Sometimes the worst case scenario does happen. It’s possible that some of your coworkers are just kind of douches, and the others got swept up in the tone of social interaction. In case of such a situation, it’s helpful to arm yourself with a slightly chilly, detached, professional politeness.
Working competently with people who dislike you is a valuable skill, too. Sure, it sucks, but it sucks a lot less if you distance yourself from the social interaction a little bit, bring it down to a low-stress, polite, “Fine, thank you, and how are you today?” Then get to business, and be extra sure to append a, “Thank you for your help,” to every professional interaction.
If your supervisor expresses concern over your socialization, you can make light of it. “I think we work well together, but if X and Y would like to socialize outside of work, I’d be delighted to get together and do A on day B.” Bosses will treat it like a problem if you do, if you treat it as a normal situation they’ll be less fussed. It’s all about crisis management.
Seconding many ideas above, I am a big fan of the baking/bringing snacks and inviting people to low-key, non-work things. Other thing I did (if you see up-thread, I hate with a fiery passion of hate people dropping by my office/cubicle/desk just to chitchat, despite being kind of extroverted and social, because it wrek my whole working groove for hours)–if I was doing work that didn’t require a high level of concentration, I would do and work in the break room. When people wandered in to get coffee or tea or to drop off stuff in the fridge, etc., we could chat and catch up. I got to know most of my coworkers this way.
The other thing that got me in deep with coworkers was helping them when they were pressed for time or under a massive deadline or needed help with something monotonous. This probably varies by office environment, but stopping in to help someone roll posters (even when you yourself are very busy) or proofread a hastily written mass email or bringing back a cookie to someone having a rough day all made me kickass workfriends. This is a good strategy if you don’t like small talk and have an easier time doing than lurking, I think.
I have been at the “new job” a year now and I am still the new girl, introvert, who gets looked at weird occasionally. Most of them work ridiculous hours but I am a firm 8-10 hour shift and leave the work at work kind of person, I may get looked down on because of this but I am not going to sacrifice my happiness and health for a job. I have had people flat out tell me they thought I was strange but realized that was just my personality…”Thanks? I think.”, so yes it can take a while to get to know everyone at a job and have them treat you as human, still working on this.
Luck, hope it works out for you 😉
“I have had people flat out tell me they thought I was strange but realized that was just my personality”
I’m going to start telling people this. “At first I thought you were really mean, but then I realized that’s just your personality” “I was surprised to find that you couldn’t walk, but now I realize that’s just your broken legs.” It has so many uses!
There are lots of valuable advice here, but one thing more that I’ve thought of. This presupposes that the coworkers are actually wanting to be friendly, not passive-aggressive asshats… Provided this is actually a friendly place, and they are waiting for LW to be a bit more outgoing, how about asking the one LW is most comfortable with (possibly, but not necessarily, one of the ones who mentioned that she should come out more in the conversation outside LWs office). Then ask that person if they have any suggestions on how to fit in more, and/or if they would help out with calling LW to the informal gatherings that take place-
I just wanted to say that the organized coffee break is a great idea. I’m swedish and live in Sweden and have worked in many office environments during the last 15 years. In almost all workplaces I have worked in (probably almost all workplaces in Sweden) one or two organized coffeebreaks every day are part of office culture. Usually there is one at around 10 and one at 3 (this is part of Swedish culture and is common in every sector, public or private and in the government, even in hospitals and schools). We call it “fika”, a word that does not mean anything else, and is hard to translate into English. It means coffee or tea and maybe a fruit or sandwich or a sweet, with colleagues or by yourself, but usually it means that you take a break from something. Anyway, it makes taking part in small talk much easier for both introverts and people who find it hard to be disturbed in the middle of their work. Smalltalk is focused around these short breaks, which also take the stress out of lunch as a social event.
Swedish culture is quite introvert, maybe this is why the need for fika arose.
Thanks to CA and all the rest of you for many good reads.
What about, in general conversation with a coworker, just saying ‘yeah I’m a bit of an introvert. Any advice on how I can be a bit more friendly with the team?’ I tried that and noticed straight away I was getting more attempts at including me in conversation. I pickede the right person to ask- the bubbly, super friendly, social person (ie. voted most likely to tell everyone that new girl is really nice but shy, so hey, let’s be super awesome to her!)
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