Making Friends at Work, Without Sucking Up
The people we choose to interact with at work have an immense impact on our performance and satisfaction. I have worked as a retail manager, restaurant employee, soccer coach, and several office positions; and while they all have their differences, the techniques used to navigate these landscapes are similar. This article focuses on the expectations for customer service and office environments, building rapport, and common pitfalls.
Understanding your environment
For customer service positions, resilience is required to withstand the inevitable barrage of bull shit from prospective customers. The stress resulting from irksome customers often leads to team building smoke sessions and post-work binge drinking, so, if you want to fast track relationships, be prepared for the post-work festivities (most of my college parties were populated by my roommates’ restaurant co-workers). CS employees are generally outgoing and fun to be around; I highly recommend a customer service position for anyone interested in meeting new people.
Next, office jobs, which exchange the stress of dealing with customers, for the discomfort of dealing with HR. Also, every office has a designated dick or biatch; which presents the tough decision of whether or not to befriend them, or, avoid them at all costs (hinging upon career expectations). For me, I avoid kissing (:-*) the ass of anyone who irks me.
Co-workers appreciate genuine people, but upper-management might perceive them as lacking in initiative. Silicon Valley is rife with homogeneous behavior, and the loudest person in the room often leads the herd to their demise by fostering a group-think culture.
Topics for discussion
Before engaging with co-workers, spend a couple days observing your peers to identify individuals who are comfortable in their position (i.e., they have positive rapport with others); these individuals are social capital jackpots. Also, consult the veterans to learn the do’s and don’ts.
Some questions you can comfortably ask:
- Do people hangout outside of work? (shows an interest in building relationships outside of work)
- Favorite/least favorite aspect of work? (a primer for what you can expect on the extremes)
- What’s the most common mistake people make? (avoid getting on the boss’s shit list)
- Which managers should I avoid? (some managers are conflict-driven; be cordial and move on)
Getting ahead early
There’s no perfect time to hop out of your shell and mingle with co-workers. I recommend sitting back for the first couple weeks, gauge behaviors, and then express yourself freely. You don’t need to approach everyone immediately; start with the closest, or the “friendliest”, then branch out. Despite peoples’ outward appearances, most will be more than happy to show you how to do new tasks. Smile, ask kindly, and follow-up with probing questions until you’ve solidified your understanding. Also, please, please, please remember their names. If you have to ask a second time, that’s okay, but try to use mnemonic devices; and make sure to thank them. Most people respond positively to charismatic individuals, so ask kindly and show appreciation.
Having a lot of contacts at work makes you a valuable employee (no one wants to fire the person who gets along with everyone). Being good at your job is a bonus, but the mediocre employee who gets along with others is worth more than an irksome busy bee.
Maintaining your reputation
Showing up on time is ninety percent of the battle, the other ten percent comes from being respectful and completing your tasks; don’t be that asshole that does the bare minimum (work ethic alone can get you ahead in life). If you give 110% in everything you do, your co-workers will appreciate you; then, when shit hits the fan, or, you need to take a “sick” day, your history of great performance will serve as a safeguard. Also, never break the trust of your co-workers, make sure to surround yourself with advocates, and keep an eye out for envious individuals.
Avoid the water cooler talks. Whenever associates begin to gossip, remove yourself from the conversation; these back-channel dialogues lack context and unfairly shape perceptions.
Thanks for reading! Visit my contact page if you’re interested in one-on-one coaching. Also, don’t be afraid to send me an email at [email protected] for any private content or comments.