Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Work is work. Technically speaking, you're not there to make friends. But you'd better do it anyway.
Not that you should catch up on all the hot gossip instead of working. And you might not even hang out with them outside of work. Your goal isn't to meet your new bestie; it's to bond with your coworkers just enough for them to feel invested.
Your starter pack:
basic small talk
asking small favors
Small talk didn't come easily to me until a few years ago, when I realized that people mostly want to talk about themselves.
To start out, stay simple. A daily "Good morning," "How's your day," and "Have a good evening" are fine. Just acknowledge their existence and your wish for their wellbeing.
Comments on the weather count too.
Once you say good morning enough, actual small talk conversation will follow. Here is where the interrogation technique comes into play.
Ask them about themselves, their pets, their kids, their latest enjoyable book or movie, and their weekend plans. (Not all at once. Pace yourself.)
When they tell you things, A) listen and B) ask a followup question.
Don't drag the conversation out long. I mean, if they're really getting into a story, listen and make interested faces and act like you have nowhere else to be. But if there's no major momentum, just say, "Better get back to work, see you later," and depart gracefully.
You should contribute to the conversation so that they feel like they know something about you. Just don't blather on forever, and keep an eye on their responses.
Asking small favors
This seems counterintuitive, right? You'd think the best way to bond with people is to do stuff for THEM. And that's not wrong–be helpful and offer your assistance when the opportunity arises.
But the surprise way to win people is to ask them to do YOU a favor.
Just something small and simple. "Can you show me where X is?" "Can I borrow your Y?" "Can you help me with Z?" It shouldn't take them more than a minute, and they'll feel like they contributed to your day.
If anyone ever asks if I want something when they go out (like to Burger King or the grocery store), I do my best to think of something small so they feel validated in asking.
My new tactic for forcing my coworkers to bond with me: Ask a different lady every morning to help me put on my bracelet. This small favor is easy for them and provides the opportunity to talk about jewelry. Plus it makes them feel useful, humanizes me, and provides a brief, minor, no-pressure physical contact.
Side note: Physical contact
Despite America's insistence on sexualizing all affection, platonic physical touch (with consent, obvs) cements emotional bonds just a little bit.
Consider the (coconut) cat. Every time a kitty brushes up against you or another cat, they're saying, "We're on good terms. Just so you know. We're good."
The touch shouldn't be prolonged or intimate. That's trouble in the workplace. Keep it brief, neutral, and casual.
If you're actively uncomfortable by physical contact, you don't have to do it. It's not required.
Guys, keep your hands to yourself. You will make the ladies uncomfortable and nervous.
Ladies, keep your physical contact limited to other ladies. I speak from personal experience when I say that most men have very little ability to understand platonic touch from women they aren't related to. Even if you think it's obvious that you mean nothing by it, don't do it.
Just like everyone likes to talk about themselves, everyone likes to hear good things about themselves.
Fact: a casual compliment makes that person like you a little bit more.
Mr. Collins is not a role model, but he does kinda have a point here. You can prepare beforehand. You just shouldn't creep people out by being weirdly intense or intimate.
Things you can compliment your coworkers on:
Taste in media (music, books, TV, etc.)
Hobbies and personal talents
Any fandom signifiers that you recognize
Things you shouldn't compliment:
Anything sexual. Come on.
Anything that could be interpreted as a lowkey insult
Okay but for real, Leslie Knope compliments are generally a no-go in the workplace. No body compliments, especially not as effusive as hers.
Sometimes a compliment leads to small talk. That's good! Use the Listen And Ask interrogation technique and then the Graceful Departure technique.
Everyone likes food. Or, at the very least, has to eat to survive.
If you cook or bake, you can make something to share and bring it in to the office. If you aren't kitchen-minded, you can pick up something tasty from the store.
(Side note: you should have at least basic kitchen skills to support yourself as an adult.)
Once you're in the office, you still have options for bonding over food. You can offer to buy your coworker(s) coffee or food if you're buying some for yourself. You can also offer to share your snacks.
If someone offers to share with you, take them up on it! But don't eat them out of house and home. Be respectful.
Go forth and mingle!
Storytime: I just started a new job that has me off in an office, away from the group work areas. Out of sight, out of mind. They can't see or hear me if I don't go search them out. So before I figured out my methods to engage them, I felt sad and alone and forgotten.
Rule of thumb: people don't notice things that aren't pointed out to them. Your coworkers will not intuitively know that you feel sequestered. So it falls to you to get out of your comfort zone.
Ways to make them see you (i.e., create opportunities for small talk, favors, compliments, and food):
Strategize your coffee/water breaks so that you either A) show up at the same time or B) pass them on your way.
Take a five-minute midmorning break to loiter in their area and engage with them.
If they aren't at their desk, walk by again later and then casually engage with them when they return.
So now you know the basics of forcing your coworkers to like you! You can do it!
I believe in you!
This blog article was originally published in October 2017.