“I like my job and want to make friends with my colleagues, but interacting with them makes me nervous. Sometimes it feels like I don’t fit in. I want to know how to be more social at work. Where do I start?”
Navigating office culture can be a challenge. It’s especially daunting if you, like me, are an introvert.
See our main article on how to be more social. In this article, I’m going to share practical tips that will help you enjoy socializing at work.
Body language, or non-verbal communication, lets us connect with one another without speaking. It includes facial expressions, posture, hand gestures, and gaze.
Research shows that our body language influences not only how others see us, but also how we feel. For example, smiling lifts our mood, and confident gestures make us feel more empowered. Specifically, “power poses” — standing tall with your chest out, hands by your sides or on your hips — can boost your self-esteem.
If you are shy, nonverbal communication is a simple way to signal that you are friendly without saying a word. For example, smiling at your coworkers as you pass them in the hallway or giving them a nod at the beginning of a meeting will make you appear more approachable.
Carry yourself with confidence. Lift your gaze, straighten your back, and keep your shoulders relaxed. Try this daily corrective routine to correct your posture.
Try to appreciate yourself as an employee. Use realistic but positive self-talk to remind yourself that your skills make you valuable, regardless of your social status. By improving your self-esteem, you may appear more confident.
Decorating your desk can help people get to know you. Choose things that will spark conversations and give your colleagues a glimpse of your personality. For example, you could bring in a few photos from exciting trips, an impressive pen collection, or an exotic plant.
You might discover that your coworkers share some of your interests. If you have something in common, your conversations will feel easier and more natural. Commonalities are also a great basis for friendship.
If you enjoy cooking or baking, bring in a few treats you made at home. Your colleagues will likely appreciate you for thinking of them, and food is often a good conversation starter.
Finding one person you feel comfortable being around can give you the confidence to socialize with your other colleagues.
Your ally will probably be a coworker you run into a lot throughout the day whose desk is near yours. People with similar roles tend to have opportunities to take lunch breaks together, ride the elevator, or walk to the parking lot at the end of the day. These are all chances to make conversation and develop a friendship.
Physical proximity increases likability. The more you see someone, the more you get to know and like them.
A workplace friendship can be comforting and make office socializing more fun. It can take the pressure off you in group situations because you can socialize as a team rather than as individuals and play off each other’s strengths. For example, they might have the ability to make people laugh, which complements your talent for attentive listening.
An extroverted friend or someone who has been with the company for a while can help you navigate office politics. They can give you advice on dealing with different personalities and fill you in on the nuances of the company’s culture.
Make a habit of looking out for opportunities to help your coworkers. You don’t need to make grand gestures. Offering to lend someone your pen when they can’t find their own or helping a coworker find a clean mug in the kitchen is enough.
Small favors encourage goodwill between you and the other person. The next time you are in a position to make small talk, starting a conversation might not be so intimidating.
You might think you have nothing in common with your coworkers. Perhaps they are much older or younger. Maybe they are interested in things you don’t care about. These differences may put you off trying to engage with them.
However, you can adapt to your circumstances. You can choose to learn about new topics and hobbies. This doesn’t mean you have to copy anyone. There is a difference between adaptation and assimilation. There’s no need to change your core personality. You just have to be fluid enough to feel comfortable in various social situations.
For example, if your coworkers are constantly talking about a new TV series, watch a couple of episodes. If several of them are raving about a particular book, pick up a copy and give it a try. You’ll be able to contribute to their conversations and build rapport, which will make socializing at work much easier.
Relating to people goes beyond finding out what you have in common. It requires empathy, which is the ability to understand a situation from someone else’s perspective.
When you’re struggling to understand someone’s behavior or opinions, try to imagine yourself in their shoes. For instance, if your colleague is complaining about their family life, try to picture yourself as an overwhelmed parent of four children. Think about how you would feel, think, and react if you were in the same situation.
Empathy makes it easier to engage with people, even if your life is very different from theirs. It can be an especially useful skill for introverts who struggle in social situations because they don’t know what to say.
By stepping into someone’s world, you are better placed to take a genuine interest in their experiences and to respond with sensitivity and compassion.
Sometimes we get so caught up in our thoughts that it becomes impossible to connect with other people. Instead of engaging with them, we let our judgments, worries, and assumptions get in the way. We let our minds wander while they speak, and we might wait impatiently for them to finish talking just so we can have our say.
The solution is to go beyond polite, passive hearing, and practice active listening. This means tuning into the conversation with your eyes as well as your ears.
Active listening entails watching people as they speak and noticing their body language while listening to their words. This listening style helps you understand people on a deeper level.
The next time you find yourself in conversation with a coworker, try to give them your full attention. Focusing on someone else can make you feel less self-conscious and make socializing more enjoyable. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this interaction?” rather than “What am I going to say next?” or “What do they think of me?”
See our guide on how to keep a conversation going.
Different crowds and environments bring out different aspects of people’s personalities. For example, many introverts have been in situations where they felt more outgoing or outspoken than usual.
When we feel overwhelmed in social situations, it’s hard to remember all the positive interactions we’ve had in the past. But if you can bring to mind a social situation where you felt comfortable, you may feel better in the present. Conjure up the positive memory in as much detail as you can.
What could you see and hear? Who was there? What topics were you discussing? How did you feel? Tap into those emotions. Realize that you can be confident in social situations, even when you feel nervous. Feeling socially awkward around your coworkers doesn’t mean you are always a timid or shy person or that you’ll never change.
If you help plan work events, you’ll probably enjoy them more because you’ll be able to suggest locations and activities that appeal to you. Planning an event with your colleagues can also bring you together and give you something to talk about. Joining a planning committee also gives you a chance to encourage everyone to plan more inclusive events that accommodate people who find it hard to socialize.
Depending on the size of your company, there may be a person or group in charge of event planning. If these positions are voluntary, consider putting your name forward. If they are elected, find out when the next vacancy comes up.
If your colleagues ask you to socialize with them outside of working hours, accept their invitation unless there’s a good reason to decline it. Turning down too many invitations will make you appear aloof. This will make it difficult for you to build good relationships at work, and people may stop asking you along if you keep saying “No.”
It’s OK if you don’t want to hang out all evening. Going for an hour is enough time to have some meaningful conversations that will help you get to know everyone a little better. Try to see every event as a valuable opportunity to practice interacting with your coworkers.
For example, if it’s time for lunch, say “I’m going to the sandwich bar. Does anyone want to come with me?” or “I think it’s time to grab a coffee. Would you like to come along?” Keep your tone light and casual. If you feel self-conscious, remind yourself that it’s perfectly normal for colleagues to talk and socialize during their breaks.
Don’t take it personally if people decline your offer. They may be busy with work or have other plans. Invite them out again a few days later. If they say “No” again, ask someone else or wait a couple of weeks before trying again.
If you click with someone or a group of people and you all enjoy spending time together, ask them if they’d like to grab a drink after work one day.
Pointing your colleagues to resources makes you appear helpful, and it can also kickstart some interesting conversations. For example, you could forward a link to articles about news in your industry or recommend a blog by an expert in your field.
Don’t overdo it. Your colleagues might become annoyed if you send them too much information or lots of links. As a rule of thumb, share a couple of things every month.
For inspiration, see our list of ice breaker questions for work.
At work events, spend a few minutes watching the room. When you choose a group of people to talk to, pay close attention to social cues like tone, volume, and body language. You may not be able to hear what they are saying, but you can still gauge how they feel.
If you can find coworkers whose mood or personality matches your own, it will probably be easier to have a good time. For example, if you are in a light-hearted mood, steer clear of people who look pensive or speak in low tones. Instead, find a group that is laughing or smiling.
However, you’ll also need to bear in mind why you’re attending the event. If you are there to do some serious networking, raucous groups might not be the best choice.
This approach saves you time. You won’t have to “work the room” to find the right people. It’s a great strategy for introverts because you won’t have to spend time and energy meeting and talking with several groups.