Work isn’t just about work, there’s a social side as well. And, whether you enjoy socializing or not, coworkers and employers will judge you based on both sociability and productivity. It may not seem fair, but this is even more true for women than men. So, how can you succeed if you just hate workplace parties? Or, what about if you don’t mind informal interactions at work, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it? I’m a therapist and professional coach for individuals with Asperger’s, and I also spent over a decade working as an engineer, so I’m well versed in helping individuals figure out all the unwritten rules of socialization at work. Here are a few tips.
1) Why is work so social in the first place?
Why does the workday contains all those social events, like gossiping at the coffee machine, going to lunch together, those monthly pot luck lunches, and the annual holiday party? Although many people enjoy these events, they also serve a team building function. Employees who are friends with each other just seem to get along better on group projects, help each other out in a crisis, and pick up each others’ slack.
As illogical as it may be, individuals who aren’t social can be viewed by others with suspicion. People who enjoy parties and group lunches often just assume that everyone else does too. So, the individual who isn’t participating isn’t considered to be shy, but rather judged as stuck up or considering herself to be too good for the group, or just not a team player. Even worse, the social crowd is probably not even aware of the assumptions they’re making, so it’s nearly impossible for an outsider to change their ideas.
You might want to view the social engagements at work as additional work assignments. You don’t have to enjoy them, but you’ll get some workplace credits for attending. It can be just something else you have to do at work. Your goal is to be considered as friendly, aboveboard and a team player. It isn’t a problem if you’re viewed as shy and reserved and even a bit of a loner.
2) The one mandatory social event
What’s the one social activity that you must participate in? The morning greeting. When you first see a coworker, it’s very important to say, “Good morning.” Try to smile, and look directly at her for just a moment. That’s all. It’s quick, scripted, and buys you a great deal of goodwill if done on a regular basis.
3) You don’t have to socialize all the time, just some of the time
A small degree of workplace socializing can go a long way toward having others view you as a team player. Pick and choose which social activities will be easiest to participate in, and skip those that you really dread. If a coworker asks why you didn’t attend the Saturday Karaoke Party, you can easily state that you need a lot of down time after a long week, and you just didn’t feel like a party. And, if you’re telling this over coffee on Monday morning, your coworker will see that you can be friendly.
4) Some social events are easier than others
For many women, some types of social events can be more enjoyable than others. Generally, more structured activities can be easier than less organized ones. Many women would much rather spend twenty minutes in the break room having the June birthday cake than going out for a beer on a Friday evening. For other women, large noisy gatherings can be overwhelming, but a simple lunchtime walk with a few other people can be fine.
5) You’re not invited to everything!
It’s important to figure out the rules about who’s invited to any gathering. Of course, if someone asks you along, you can probably assume you’re wanted. And, for company events, everyone is welcome. But, often coworkers become close personal friends, and they may not welcome you joining them for lunch. Try joining in the most casual activities first, like sharing the table in the lunch room, or chatting at the water cooler. See how friendly people are. If you notice a few people standing very close and whispering, assume it’s a private conversation. If they look up, smile, and greet you, you’ve been invited to join the group.
6) Setting Up a social event
It can be easiest to set something up when you’re together casually, and then pay attention to your coworker’s response. You might mention a restaurant you’ve wanted to try, or state how you love to walk around the block on these beautiful summer days. A friendly response would be something like, “Let’s all do that tomorrow!” or “Let me know next time you’re going.” Less friendly responses would be less enthusiastic and more vague, like, “Maybe we can all go there sometime.” or “That sounds good.” With these responses, you don’t have an event set up, but you’re coworkers are being open, so you can mention it again. If you hear something like, “Oh, I hate walking!” or “I’m pretty busy.” your opening has been rejected. Try not to take it personally, just move on to a friendlier coworker.
7) Don’t forget what you learned in Junior High
Just like when you were in seventh grade, not everyone will be friendly. Try to spend time with the people who talk to you, who ask you about the weekend or your kids. Avoid those who gossip or badmouth other coworkers, or who seem to be excluding you. Almost every company includes a few kind, friendly individuals, people who really want to be friends with you.
Whether you end up enjoying it or not, workplace socializing is important. Make a few simple changes and your coworkers and bosses will view you as friendly, trustworthy and a great part of the team.