Dear Pink Hair Girl,
I’ve been working at my pharmacy job now for about a year, and I’m still having trouble making friends at work. I feel like I’m the only one who isn’t into going out on Friday night and getting drunk, and I don’t engage my coworkers in sports-related talk because I know nothing about it. Instead, when I try to say something funny or witty, the dumbest crap comes out. I feel like I’m in high school all over again, trying to impress the popular kids, but I only managing to show them how big a dork I am. At the very least, everyone is civil to me, they say hi and I don’t get the impression they’re making fun of me. We’re all adults at least. It’s just that I see these people almost every day, it feels so awkward to be around them and not actually get along that well with them. Is there anything I can do to be better friends with my coworkers?
You bring up an interesting point, about the correlation you draw between work and school. Back in those grade school days, you saw the same people day in and day out, just as you do with a steady job. The big difference is that most of us went to grade school with way more people than we see at work. You had a much better shot of meeting some people to click with. But now that you’re working, the field has narrowed, and not being the type of person who instantly drums up new friends means that your chances of having a work buddy are kind of low.
As for solving your dilemma, I see two distinct angles, and it will be up to you to pick how you play it. All of it involves some personal changes in your mind set, which are the kinds of things that are easy for me to type, but hard for you to do. (Sorry, pal!) You can either go with my list of tips for making friends at work, or you can spend some time changing your mind about what your work life means to you.
Tips For Making Friends at Work: If you aren’t naturally compatible with your coworkers after a year, then for any friendships to bloom, things will have to change. This can be tricky, because it’s important to continue being yourself in order for real friendships to develop. What needs to change here is not who you are as a person, but rather the way you push your own boundaries. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s entirely possible to stay true to yourself while learning to do new things. If you have trouble picturing yourself doing the things listed below, remember: it’s not you trying to be someone you’re not; it’s the same old you pushing past your personal anxiety and trying something different. Be brave!
- Be approachable. This means a number of things, but mostly it means SMILE. Smile at people when you pass them in the hall. Smile when you make eye contact in general. Even try smiling a little while you work. At the very least, don’t go around looking like someone just stole your lunch out of the fridge.
- Don’t hide during lunch. If it’s time to eat, or you happen to know that someone is going on break to grab food, make an effort to be present. Ask if they wouldn’t mind you coming along, even if it’s just to pick food up (you can say you forgot your lunch at home if you pack it normally). Bonding over food is an important aspect of making friends, and doing non-work related activities helps people expand their view of you, even if just a little bit. If you’re able to shine some new light on yourself, people will feel more compelled to get to know you better.
- Learn to relax around them. That phenomenon wherein you try to say something cool, and something stupid comes out instead, is what happens when you put too much pressure on yourself. If you find yourself about to make up something to say just to say something, don’t. Just wait for a time in the conversation when making a comment or adding to it feels natural.
- Bring food to the office. The best feeling in the world is when someone in the office brings in something delicious and unexpected. (Okay, that’s not the best feeling. I can think of some others that top it. See Figure A.) You can have all those positive “omnomnomnom” feelings associated with you by occasionally bringing in food for the office. Try not to make it a pattern, since that just means you might let them down if you can’t swing it one week or another. But doing so once or twice a month means people get to see you being generous, and gives them a good reason to thank you and spark up a conversation.
Now, for part two of this advice session:
If they’re not your friends, should you really be trying to MAKE them your friends?
You’re not stranded on a desert island together. You’re just coworkers. You already mentioned that they’re being civilized adults to you, and you don’t feel ostracized. I get the fact that work can be more fun if you’ve got buddies there. But as long as you have good friends outside of work, there’s nothing wrong with leaving these relationships at a strictly professional level. It’s possible that you may want to reevaluate what makes you want to be friends with them. Do you feel like you’re lacking companionship in general, outside of work? Does not making friends with people you see so regularly feel like it represents some sort of shortcoming for you?
If you decide that you’re not into pushing your boundaries to try and win your coworkers over, then it might be time to re-frame the ideas you have about your relationships with them. Allow yourself to believe that you don’t need them as friends, because you don’t. You’re a grown up, and you have more important things to worry about than whether or not these people want to be your buddies. If you realize along the way that you are lacking in personal relationships in general, or their lack of interest in you is hurtful to your self-esteem, then they’re not the people you should be trying to win over anyway. You should be looking for friendship in places where you share common interests with people, not forcing yourself to turn these specific people who you’re stuck with into friends.
The next move is yours, though. If it’s just about making work a little more lighthearted, then by all means start working on being more open and accommodating to your coworkers, and they’ll begin to warm up to you over time. But, if you think this goes deeper than that, try to determine what’s really bothering you, and get to the root of that trouble first.
And if all that fails, there’s always the option of turning the pharmacy into a giant ball pit.
Pink Hair Girl