Customer Experience Articles

I Don't seem to Fit-in at Work

How to build better relationships with co-workers

Occasionally when I’m interviewing a client’s employees in preparation for a seminar, someone will confide that while they enjoy dealing with external customers, the real stress is dealing with their internal customers; their co-workers. With the various friendships and cliques that naturally spring-up in the workplace, some employees may have a hard time fitting-in. Ironically, trying to fit-in is the last thing they should do. If you or a colleague have ever felt like you just aren’t connecting with the people you work with, here are 5 tips for building better workplace relationships.

1. Change your expectations
Odds are, you may have a few co-workers who are so different from you in their attitude, upbringing, or value system, that if you didn’t work with them you wouldn’t choose to have anything to do with them. Perhaps they feel the same way about you. So, trying to win them over as a friend is likely going to be interpreted as disingenuous and therefore will be futile. Instead, think of your relationship goal not as trying to become their buddy; but instead to become their trusted advisor for your area of expertise.

Consider the relationship between a medical specialist and a patient. As a patient, we don’t expect the cardiologist to phone just to chat about movies. We may only interact with them once or twice, then never again. Yet we feel a strong bond because we see them as a trusted advisor. At work, your day will be easier if you expend less energy trying to become best friends with your colleagues and focus more on satisfying their needs as a trusted advisor.

2. Manage their expectations
One thing sure to frustrate and alienate coworkers is to be wishy-washy about delivering on your commitments. Saying “I’ll try” or “I’ll do my best” is essentially revealing that you have no idea how competent or inept you are. Better to say ‘no’ upfront or tell them exactly (realistically) when it will be done, than to give a vague commitment. Of course the challenge is once you make that promise you need to keep it – no matter what it costs you. In workplaces where some people dodge tasks, the simple act of keeping your promises will earn your coworkers’ trust and respect.

Here’s a tip if the person making unrealistic demands happens to be your boss (or bosses). Once a week send them a written overview of your projects and priorities for the coming week. Pro-actively ask them for input for anything you should re-prioritize.

3. Be a positive influence
To help create a constructive atmosphere, frame your commitments positively. For example, rather than saying to a co-worker, “I won’t be able to send it to you until tomorrow,” Instead say, “You’ll receive it within 24 hours.” The positive wording makes you sound less like a whiner and more like a problem solver.

Speaking of whining – don’t. Generally, people at work are just being polite when they ask, “How are you?” They don’t really want to hear about your aches or lamentations about traffic. Nor do they want to hear jibes about other departments, customers, or your employer. If you have a concern with a person at work, talk with that person directly. Keep it positive and professional.

4. Don’t be a martyr
In today’s workplace, no one cares if you arrive earlier or stay later than your colleagues. What really matters is if you get your work done and make a significant contribution. Once you’ve done that for the day, go home and focus on your relationships with your own friends and family.

If you’re unfortunate enough to work at a place where management doesn’t reward your contributions, then maybe this really isn’t the right place for you. That’s why it’s always a good idea to join and volunteer at your professional trade association. It’s filled with people in your industry who just may be looking to hire someone like you.

5. Attend the picnic
Anytime management spends money to finance a company social event, their goal is to improve morale and cohesiveness. So, if your employer stages a non-work get-together a couple of times a year, be sure to show-up. You don’t have to stay to the end. Just circulate and ask a few people about their families and life outside of work. Keep it pleasant and positive and then go home.

Bottom line – you have no control over whether certain people at work are going to like you. Some may not because your name reminds them of a kid they disliked back in grade school. Fortunately, you do have control over the things you say and do, which will gain their trust and – even if grudging – respect. That’s life as a grown-up. Cut yourself some slack, do your job, then go home to family and friends who love you.

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