Making friends can be a difficult thing. When my son started at a new high school he asked me who I thought his friends would be. My response was that like finds like and that good people are drawn to each other. I also explained that there were specific things he could do to help himself find a friend or two amongst the hundreds of teenagers.
I think the same is true of our workplaces. Making friends involves a degree of luck and natural affinity, but we can take concrete steps to help the process along.
Social groups are not easy to break into. As human beings, we tend to draw circles around ourselves that make it hard for newcomers to join. This is true both in high school and in the workplace. And sometimes, even when we are not new, we find ourselves feeling alone and on the outskirts. No matter the reason, it is important to not be hurt by the natural tendency to create social groups, and instead do something to set ourselves up for real connection and friendship in our workplace. Unlike on Facebook, no one has 400 friends in real life—and no one needs so many. Even one friend at work can make a difference.
1. Take Initiative
Be the first one to say hello, offer a smile in passing, ask a question, say good night or make eye contact. Don’t wait for someone to acknowledge you—acknowledge them first. Sometimes all it takes is a small gesture to let the other person know you are aware of and glad of their presence. My guess is that if you do, you will find a pleasant response.
2. Be Helpful and Open to Help
We all have days when the work load seems unbearable. Often it feels like there is simply not enough time or energy to get all the work done. Extending a simple offer of help to a co-worker might be just what is needed to show your genuine interest in the other person. And when someone offers you a hand, don’t be too quick to say you can handle it all yourself.
3. Take in Work Events
Don’t skip general invitations to work events because you are waiting for a personal invitation. Social gatherings—whether the Christmas party, family fun days (even if you don’t have kids), or drinks after work—are an opportunity to engage with your co-workers as peers. Make use of these occasions to interact, and try asking people about topics outside of the office.
4. Put Your Phone Away
Walk into your workplace with your eyes up and phone away. Sit in the lunch room phoneless. Leave your phone in your pocket during those few minutes before the staff meeting starts and don’t check it the minute the meeting is done. Although it may feel awkward at first, these moments when you are tempted to escape in the virtual world are chances for you to exchange a few words with those around you. I challenge you to try it, even if just for a week.
5. Use Social Media
Although technology can often be distancing, social media is also a tool which we are wise to use when needed. It can be an easy way to express interest in a person. It is also a means to find out about the interests of our co-workers, and can provide conversation starters in the real world: “Hey I saw you posted on Facebook about…”
6. Keep Trying—First Impressions Aren’t Everything
Sometimes cliques are strong; sometimes we get off on the wrong foot; sometimes we’ve withdrawn for a long time and patterns are established. Whatever the case, we get to decide what to do and how to respond. One negative impression does not doom an entire potential friendship. Change is never easy – but it is often well worth the effort.
Above all, remember that while friendships are a natural part of human experience, they don’t often happen without any work. As with many things in life, if you put in time and energy towards forging relationships in your place of work, your efforts will eventually be rewarded.