How do I fix my social reputation at work?
April 30, 2012 7:03 PM Subscribe
What would you suggest for improved social skills, fitting in, decreased awkwardness, and undoing a reputation for being annoying at work? I'd especially love help for nerds with social anxiety who need to fit in with mainstreamy socialite sorts of people.
Where to begin? I did not make the best first impression at my current job. This is an industry that is tightly networked, and I will probably need to meet with these folks down the road. I have only been done with school for two years, and been in this position for one year. I've come across as sensitive, anxious, rigid, guarded and obnoxious. In my previous position I got on well with everyone; they appreciated and accepted me and had nothing but good things to say. At my current position, not so much.
**If you don't want to read my lengthy explanation, please note I put my main goals at the bottom. I've included everything that might be important in getting some awesome MeFi-quality feedback so of course, this is a diatribe.***
Why Have I Had Trouble in This Position?
I decided I wanted to do really well and put myself under too much pressure. This was also a permanent position where the last one was a temporary one. The culture at my current place is a mainstreamy and cliquish one; at the former it was laid back but professional. My boss at the current place had a work style that triggered me emotionally and the previous boss was much easier to work with. Expectations were clear as mud here, and at the previous job they were laid out well. Possibly most significant, at this position no one has our own space. At the previous position I did lots of traveling and could decompress easily. I can be very task-oriented and perfectionistic, and I'm working with folks who are far more people-oriented.
Please note those are all just factors. I know ultimately it is my own actions that I need to address and I can't control the factors that led to me making such an interpersonal mess of my position. I accept responsibility and now I'm trying to do damage control with the consequences.
Although I have put myself in an unpleasant social position at work, in other settings this doesn't typically happen. I have two other social groups besides my friends-only group, and in those two other social groups I am accepted and invited to participate in social things. In both groups I've used self-deprecating humor to mention these personality quirks and in both cases people have seemed surprised to hear about how I've come across in this job. So it is something about how I presented myself, and how I've mixed with those in power, and how I just got really neurotic about all of it.
Part of the problem is the culture is set by "mainstream" and socially savvy personalities... I was more of the nerdy brainiac in school (compared to the gone-Greek folks in power, where going Greek usually means some exclusivity and preppy-ness and knowing some kind of social code that those outside this world don't really get as easily). I get on with quirky people much more easily.
What I Do or Have Done Wrong - Problem Behaviors
I was really sensitive when I started this job, took it too seriously, expected perfection of myself, and I'm sure I was a chore. Plus due to misunderstanding my supervisor got really irritated with me early on when she was forming an impression.
I engage in some mild forms of attention-seeking when I feel ignored. There have been days where I answered questions that people were asking others (not me), and days where I'd make a quick on-topic comment and hear crickets. You're probably cringing by now - and so am I. I'm really rather ashamed of this behavior and ready to change it for good. (I stopped talking out of turn and stopped taking feedback so hard, so progress, but there's still lots to do.)
I'm in therapy to address the underlying issues - depression, social anxiety, ADHD type issues, and early loss that led to being commitment-phobic and afraid of bonding with people. I'm working on my communication skills, but feel a bit like I need to overhaul my personality to make any headway at my current job.
I really need help cleaning up the mess I've made. There's so much I want to fix or change and I don't know where to begin. I know the key is probably to make changes without discussing it and let others just notice the difference. I did this with the sensitivity - as I adjusted to the job I became less sensitive. Eventually I asked if others had noticed and they had. But I need to do much more to fix this stuff. Not sure where to begin.
You remember the supervisor that got upset with me? She has become my boss since I started the job. I do not know how to go about improving the relationship. In the past I have tried and she has denied that anything needed to be done. I tend to be really direct instead of subtle and she works on subtlety. There is a history of communicating in a kind of social code that she expects others to guess. I wasn't socialized in that world so I have trouble with that code.
(A few years ago I wondered if I had some kind of autism spectrum thing but I don't think I do. I think I just have ADHD, social anxiety and nerdy socialization. Which can look Asperger's sometimes. Besides, this doesn't happen in all settings. Just the current work situation - and occasionally work makes me feel so needy and insecure that I can use some of these unfortunate traits with one or two friends.)
Improved reputation at work
Improved sense of others valuing my contributions
Improved social skills (less ADHD type obnoxious behavior)
Improved perception of me by the boss
Better emotional/social intelligence
Better communication (saying "the right things")
Presenting as less self-absorbed and insecure
I am looking for basic tips for how to be in the world in a more secure way, as well as resources I can draw from - whether they are websites or books. I'm not in a position to spend lots of money on this, but it is very important to me.
Before you ask, I'm not currently trying to find other work, and would like other suggestions aside from that one. My goal is not really to make my current work environment perfect because I fear I screwed the pooch too much for that. Rather, I want to improve it as much as possible, and in the process I'll learn the skills that will help me make a better impression at my next job. Leaving now won't fit with my five-year plan. I don't see any signs that they want me out of the position. I just want to make the "unofficial" stuff better.