Making friends with your coworkers can make your job a lot more enjoyable. But what if it feels like you don’t fit in at work? Here’s how to build better relationships with your colleagues.
“I’ve been at the same job for 1 year and I still have no friends at work. I think my coworkers don’t like me, but they don’t say that to my face. Why do I feel like an outsider?” – Scarlet
In this article, we’ll go through several reasons why may you have no friends at work. In this article, we only cover work-related reasons for not having friends. For general advice, read the main article on making friends.
Know that it takes time to make friends at a new job
It’s common to feel like an outsider at any new job. People already belong to their groups, and from their perspective, it’s more comfortable to socialize with colleagues they already know than with “the new one”. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like you – just that it’ll take some time before they’re as comfortable with you as with their existing colleagues.
However, if you haven’t made friends after a few months, it can be helpful to do some introspection.
Use a positive body language
Negative or “closed” body language makes you appear aloof, unapproachable, or even arrogant. Try to keep your back straight without being stiff—this can make you appear more confident. Avoid crossing your arms or legs.
Lean in slightly when someone is talking to you; this signals that you are interested in what they are saying. During conversations, maintain eye contact but don’t stare.
Smile when you greet people. If smiling doesn’t come naturally to you, practice in a mirror. A convincing smile that creates wrinkles in your eyes will make you more likable than wearing a fake smile or not smiling at all.
You don’t want to smile all the time, but you want to make sure that you avoid frowning. It’s common, especially if we’re worried or anxious, to tense up our facial muscles without even thinking about it. That can make us look unapproachable. Make sure to have a relaxed, friendly facial expression.
Show an interest in your coworkers’ lives
Try to listen as much as you talk when getting to know your colleagues. Remember the little details they share with you. Later, you can ask questions that show you are a good listener. For example, if they tell you that they are going hiking with their dog at the weekend, ask them about it on Monday.
It’s OK to stick to small talk. People appreciate someone who knows how to have a genuine two-way conversation, even if the topics are mundane. When you’ve built a connection, you can start moving into deeper, more personal topics.
This article on how to improve your interpersonal skills at work can be helpful at this stage.
Avoid habitual negativity
Negative people are draining and lower morale in the workplace. Before making a complaint, decide whether you want others to help you find a way forward or just let off steam. If it’s the latter, reconsider; once you have a reputation as a negative person, it’s hard to shake off. When you raise a concern or point out a problem at work, follow it up with a constructive suggestion. Try not to open or close a conversation with a negative remark or complaint.
Join in with social activities
After work drinks, lunches, office competitions, events days, and coffee breaks are opportunities for coworkers to bond. If you don’t join in, you might come off as aloof and unfriendly. After a few outings, you’ll probably stop feeling as though you don’t fit in.
No one likes to be rejected, so if you decline several invitations in a row, your coworkers will probably stop asking. Make “Yes” your default answer.
If you have social anxiety, start slowly with more low-key events, such as going out for coffee with one or two colleagues at lunchtime. This guide on dealing with social anxiety at your workplace might also help.
Avoid relying too much on other people
If you aren’t sure how to do something, do you immediately ask a coworker for help, or do you try to find the answer yourself? Avoid asking your colleagues too many questions; their time is important, and they have their own work to do. Ask your manager for further training or support if you don’t have the skills or knowledge necessary to get your job done.
Avoid spreading gossip
Almost everyone gossips at work. Although it has a bad reputation, gossip isn’t necessarily destructive. But if your coworkers realize that you’re happy to put people down when they aren’t around, they’ll be slow to trust you.
Try to be a “happy gossip.” Compliment, rather than criticize, your coworkers behind their backs. You’ll get a reputation as an appreciative, positive person. If you have a problem with a coworker, approach them or your manager directly instead of complaining to other people.
Acknowledge your mistakes
You don’t have to be perfect to be likable, but if you try to gloss over your mistakes or blame your coworkers, others will lose respect for you. When you mess up, take full responsibility for your actions and explain what you’ll do differently next time around. A sincere apology, when followed by meaningful change, is the best way to repair a breach of trust.
Know how to be assertive
Assertive people stand up for their rights while remaining civil and respectful of other people. They aim for win-win situations and know how to compromise while upholding their personal boundaries.
Assertiveness takes time to cultivate, but building self-respect and confidence is a good start. Set yourself small challenges such as voicing an opinion in a low-stakes informal meeting, asking for clarification when you need more information, and saying, “Sorry, but that’s not possible” to an unreasonable request.
Keep your promises
Your coworkers will soon become frustrated if you promise more than you can deliver. Learn the basic principles of time management, and be honest if you can’t meet a deadline. Although running late is common in the workplace, tardiness will damage your reputation. If you have a track record of failing to follow through on your commitments, your coworkers will be reluctant to partner with you on projects.
Don’t take credit for other peoples’ ideas
Be honest about your contributions in the workplace. Don’t pretend that you did something alone when it was really a collaborative effort. If you’ve built on someone else’s idea, say, “After X said Y, that got me thinking…” or “X and I were talking about Y, and so I decided…” Give credit where it’s due. Thank people for their help and make them feel appreciated. This shows people that you have integrity.
Take and give constructive criticism
Overreacting to negative feedback can make you unprofessional. Thank your coworkers when they give you feedback, even if you don’t think all of it is relevant or helpful. Try not to interpret criticism as a personal attack. Instead, think of it as valuable information you can use to do a better job. Ask whoever is giving you feedback to work with you to draw up an actionable plan based on their main points.
When you have to give someone feedback, focus on their behavior rather than personal attributes. Give them pointers they can use rather than sweeping statements. For example, “You need to be here by 9 a.m. every morning” is better than “You’re always late, do better.”
Avoid being too quick to bring your private life into the workplace
Sharing personal experiences and opinions is an important part of friendship, but oversharing at work will make people uncomfortable. Every workplace has its own culture, and topics that are OK in some business settings will be inappropriate in others.
Pay close attention to your coworkers’ favorite topics and follow their lead. When you have a big life event coming up, try not to talk about it excessively. For example, if you’re getting married, don’t keep showing everyone photos of your wedding dress or venue.
Avoid making offensive jokes or inappropriate remarks at work
A joke or flippant remark that’s acceptable to some people might be offensive to others. As a general rule, if you wouldn’t make a comment in front of your boss or a specific group of people, don’t say it. Steer clear of controversial topics of conversation unless they are directly related to your work. If someone says you are making them uncomfortable, don’t get defensive. Try to understand their perspective, apologize, and avoid repeating your mistake.
Be humble, especially when offering advice
There’s a fine line between making a helpful suggestion and patronizing a coworker. If someone asks for your advice, then give it graciously, while remembering that they’re under no obligation to take it (unless you’re their boss). If you aren’t sure whether they want your input, and you have some ideas that could help, say, “Would you like to brainstorm solutions together?”
Otherwise, assume that your colleagues are capable of doing their work and, unless it’s an emergency, don’t step in to tell them what you’d do in their position. Even if you have good intentions, you could appear condescending and disrespectful.
Avoid letting emotions get in the way of work
If you get angry at work, it’s important that you handle your feelings appropriately. Volatile people don’t command respect at work, only fear. When you’re feeling angry, give yourself some space before emailing, calling, or speaking to anyone.
Try to give people the benefit of the doubt and ask questions before making assumptions and getting annoyed. For example, if your colleague hasn’t returned your call, it isn’t necessarily because they are lazy or inconsiderate; they might have been distracted by an urgent problem.
Show that you are a team player
Your colleagues expect you to take on your fair share of work and may become resentful if you don’t make an effort. If you tend to hold back because you aren’t sure what to do, ask. It’s better to ask a few awkward questions than force everyone else to pick up your slack. If you finish your tasks ahead of schedule, offer to help others on your team. Show that you’re a team player.
Present yourself well
Well-groomed people create a better first impression. Make sure your outfits comply with your work’s dress code and take your style cues from your coworkers. Keep your hair neat and stay on top of your personal hygiene.
You don’t need to become a clone of anyone else, but by showing you know how to fit in, other people will be more inclined to trust and like you. If you don’t know where to start, ask a fashion-conscious friend for help or invest in a session with a personal stylist.
Learn strategies for making friends
This article focuses on what can keep you from making friends at work. It can be helpful to also learn specific skills on how to make friends.
In the first chapter of the guide that you’ll find on that link, we’ll cover how to more easily make friends with people that you come across in day to day life.