Building professional relationships
September 25, 2018 7:50 AM   Subscribe

How do you build professional relationships with colleagues? I spend most of my work day alone or with people whose company I don't enjoy, and I want to change it.

I'm lonely at work and want to build relationships with my other colleagues. I've been having lunch with the other new hires, but they're fresh out of college and we don't have much in common. (I've been in the workforce for a while.)

I have more in common with the employees who have been there longer, and they seem more fun! They chat and have lunch together, but I'm never invited.

I say hello to everyone, smile when I see them in the hallways, and ask them non-intrusive questions about themselves and their families, but I struggle with building the kinds of connections that lead to chatting and lunch.

It's been a problem for me at previous workplaces as well as in my personal life -- there's some magic that happens for other people, but only rarely for me. How do I get to know my other colleagues better?
posted by marfa, texas to Work & Money (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Start small, with one or two people. Then you need to do the inviting. Invite people out for coffee, or show vulnerability and ask people for help/advice on stuff.
posted by vespertinism at 7:55 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason you can't invite yourself to lunch? E.g. "mind if I sit here? Or "could I join you guys?"
posted by windykites at 8:05 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, just invite yourself.

If they act like dicks about it, you don't want to be friends with them anyway.
posted by phunniemee at 8:27 AM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yeah. "Hi, mind if I sit here?" Then participate in the conversation. Don't feel like you have to shoehorn yourself in. Just sitting, smiling and interjecting the odd word will do a lot to make you feel like you know these people.

I think one key element is remembering elements of previous conversations and harking back to those in the next one. There's an art to doing this in a way that comes off as interested but not creepily obsessing over small details (I have excellent recall of small details in conversations which sometimes surprises people and sometimes have to feign not remembering a detail so that people won't think I've got a dossier on them compiled.)

Another thing is not being afraid to share details about yourself. There is a generally accepted belief that "the way to get people to like you is to ask questions" but that can just come across like you're interviewing them; the way to get people to like you is to be genuinely interested, and that doesn't necessarily mean battering them with questions, but truly engaging with what they're saying.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:34 AM on September 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

Are there committees or other positions within the org that you can join to meet people from other departments? In my current job I started a book club and joined a planning committee and have met people from across the organization that I would never have met otherwise, and it's really helped me to be comfortable in my job and enjoy it a lot more.
posted by odd ghost at 8:36 AM on September 25, 2018

Find some ways to exchange favors or stuff. Become known as a person who is generous with your time and resources. Cultivate habits of stopping by to talk to people; even if you have to come up with an excuse the first few times, it'll soon start feeling more natural. Build genuine appreciation and interest in people. Create your own opportunities, like bringing in baked goods every Wednesday. Make one friend and plan things together, then use that momentum to engage others. Consider inviting people to lunch yourself; if people already have their own social events organized, they're likely to invite you to those rather than doubling up. When new people join the team, make a point to introduce yourself and set something up with them (coffee, 15-minute walk, "get to know you" chat) and then use the opportunity to become a connector: suggest that you, the newbie, and a more established person all grab coffee. Send out your good vibes with hopefulness but no obligation for people to respond a particular way. And ask a trusted friend to give you feedback on whether there is anything obvious and fixable holding you back, like bad breath or BO.
posted by rockyraccoon at 8:37 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Participate in as many extracurricular activities as you can. And if you ever get a chance to volunteer for something, do it. Pretty much everyone I know at my current job, I met because I volunteered to be the captain of our volleyball team. I'd been working here for nine months before volleyball started, and had hardly talked to anyone, let alone making friends, but now I'm Mr. Popular.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:50 AM on September 25, 2018

I put a candy bowl on my desk, everyone who walked by felt they needed to introduce themselves or small talk a bit to get the candy. I also started eating in the lunchroom, not at my desk while working. I just sit down and say “this seat free?”. I now have good professional relationships, which makes life way better, as well as making work politics clearer.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 12:10 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

It depends on the people. Some are more welcoming than others. I'm not sure reading this if the coworkers you like are the sort that would be fine if you invited yourself or would ignore/shun you/not want newbies to join them. There are all kinds at work.

It really doesn't sound like you are doing anything wrong. You're doing all the right things. But some places and people are not welcoming to outsiders and that may not necessarily be you so much as it is them. You can try the suggestions here, which sound good, but don't beat yourself up if they don't work. You can live without having friends at work. Some places, it's better not to have any actually.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:54 PM on September 25, 2018

One thing I try to do, which might be appropriate since you know about them and their families, is to randomly give them something - "hey, I saw this at the farmer's market on Saturday and thought of your daughter", etc.

Could you set up a lunch with one new hire and one older employee as a sort of informal mentorship/ connection thing?

It sounds like you have a professional relationship - i.e. a working relationship - what you're looking for is more of a work friendship, which not everyone has / it's not for everyone, and I don't think that's necessarily unhealthy.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 9:19 PM on September 25, 2018

I have had some luck in the past with creating periodic lunch events around a non-work shared interest. I would think of something that you enjoy that others might also connect with and circulate an email or intranet message asking if there is anyone with an interest in a monthly "bring your lunch (or scarf it down first) and do X" event. Things that have worked well:
* knitting/craft lunch
* Board game lunch
* Walking lunch hour
posted by shelbaroo at 7:54 AM on September 27, 2018

Organize a happy hour.
posted by bendy at 9:56 PM on September 27, 2018

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