You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your coworkers. Yet you need these guys in more ways than one.
First, you need their goodwill and cooperation in order to perform your own job well. Second, studies find that disagreements with coworkers and bad interoffice relationships deflate morale and impair performance even more than rumors of layoffs.
You don’t have to be friends with your coworkers, but you do need to be friendly. Read on for fresh ways to make work a kinder, gentler place.
1. Give a happy “Hello!” in the morning. Do you plod into the office, eyes down, shoulders slumped, and immediately start work? If so, you’re likely to find that coworkers ignore you (at best) or avoid you (at worst). Get into the habit of smiling and greeting your colleagues as you arrive in the morning or begin your shift. It’s really amazing how fast this little courtesy can thaw chilly workplace relations.
2. Learn the art of small talk. Ask your coworkers about their interests — their favorite music, movies, and books, as well as their hobbies, suggests Larina Kase, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Center for Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “Showing a genuine interest in them will make them feel comfortable around you,” she says. Once you know what floats their boat, clip items from newspapers or magazines to help start conversations. “John, I saw this article about that singer you like,” or, “Mary, you like to knit, don’t you? I found this great new knitting store not too far from here, and thought of you right away.”
3. Join the office bowling or softball team. Many offices have them, and they’re a great way to get some exercise while you get to know your coworkers in an informal setting.
4. Accept good-natured teasing. Other workers sometimes play jokes and tease to test what kind of person you are. So if they poke fun at your new shoes or mischievously put a racy screensaver on your computer, don’t get angry. Let them know that you love a good joke — even if it’s sometimes on you. Of course, if the teasing is personal (about your weight or ethnicity, for example), makes it difficult for you to do your job, or makes you feel uncomfortable because of its sexual implications, you may need to take up the matter with your supervisor.
5. Ask what they think. People love to be asked their opinion, so go out of your way to ask, “What do you think belongs in this report?” or, “How do you think I should handle this situation with client X?” Then give the advice giver a sincere thank-you, even if the ideas are less than helpful.
6. Sidestep the gossip mill. You don’t want anyone talking about you behind your back, right? So return the favor. When a coworker sidles up to you bearing a juicy tidbit of gossip about Betty’s office romance or Bill’s impending firing, respond with, “Really?” and then change the subject or get back to work. If you don’t respond, the gossiper will move on — and you’ll retain the trust and respect of your colleagues.