Are you the type of person who hates to be interrupted at work with “good mornings” and other niceties? Do you routinely avoid the break room or eat lunch at your desk? Do your coworkers hang out socially, but rarely invite you for an after-work drink?
While you may think of yourself as an introvert, your coworkers may be interpreting your communication cues quite differently. They may feel that you’re impolite, snobby, or antisocial.
So often with people, simple interactions and misunderstandings may lead to negative feelings and poor workplace relationships. Here are a few cue cards, or quick actionable tips, that will make a big difference in the way you interact at work–and how others respond to you.
These tips come from Christina Steinorth, author of an upcoming book Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships (Hunter House, 2013).
Mind your moods.
Everyone has bad moods; what differentiates adults from children is our ability to exercise impulse control and articulate how we feel. When you grumble, stew, or frown, everyone around you has to walk on eggshells for fear that you’re going to blow. You would hate being around someone like that, so manage your moodiness. Anger has no place at work.
Work on timing.
An insensitive person is someone who’s clueless about how his/her behavior affects others. Try to be aware of what’s going on with the person you’re talking to. If she seems busy, distracted, or upset, ask if this is a good time to talk. Even if you think what you have to say is important, forcing her to listen on your terms won’t get your message across effectively.
Smell good; look good.
If coworkers avoid you, there may be a good reason. You may have bad breath or (gasp!) body odor. Even if you showered today, you may still have a noticeable odor if you’re wearing unwashed clothes. Remember that we can’t smell ourselves very well. Good grooming and good hygiene make a good impression. Poor personal-care habits tend to alienate others.
Resolve problems directly.
Whenever possible, deal directly with the person with whom you’re having a conflict. Approach the coworker respectfully and in private. Use specific examples so your coworker understands your concerns. Tell him you’d like to reach an agreement, and ask for his help in doing so. Really try not to go above a coworker’s head without trying to work it out with him first.
Accept constructive criticism.
When a coworker or supervisor offers a suggestion about how you might do something differently, don’t snap at her or get defensive. Keep quiet, take a breath, and try to really listen to what she’s saying. Use it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and own up to your mistakes.
Nonverbal communication is key.
You send lots of messages to others through your tone, volume, expression, and body language–not just your words. Do you look interested when others speak, or distracted and impatient? When you speak, do you give others their personal space or lean into theirs and speak too loud? Pay attention when people make comments such as, “You look angry,” or “You seem stressed out.” This is most likely your nonverbal communication speaking.
If you find that people at work avoid you, it’s time to look in the mirror. How do you interact with others on a daily basis? Are you easy or difficult to work with? Is it your way or the highway? Try to imagine what it would be like working with you, and then make a few small changes in your communication style. Watch how quickly your workplace relationships improve as a result.
In an interview with Careerbright, Chiristina advises well on social etiquette and dealing with difficult people at the workplace.
Q. From work ethics, to what to wear for work to managing workplace relationships, we as adults have a lot to learn at the workplace. What is one most important piece of advice you would have for a new grad entering the workplace for the first time?
My best advice to a new grad entering the workplace for the first time is this—be open to constructive criticism.
You’d be surprised how many employers tell me that their number one difficulty with new grads is that they can’t or won’t accept constructive criticism. It’s almost impossible to learn to do your job well if you’re not open to hearing about what you may be doing wrong, or what you could be doing better. When an employer gives you constructive criticism, you shouldn’t take it as character assassination—they’re not tell you that you’re a terrible person, they’re actually trying to help you because they want to keep you around. Listen to what they’re telling you and grow from it.
Q. Often work focused individuals don’t find them an easy fit at a social workplace. What can they do to make friends and ‘open-up’ to social niceties at work?
I know this is hard for some people—especially introverts (I’m an introvert, so I get it). Here are my best tips:
1.) Mind your body language. If you walk around with your arms crossed, a frown on your face and generally look guarded, co-workers (as well as customers and supervisors) will see you as stand-offish. Look approachable. Look happy or at least pleasant.
2.) Make eye contact. When you talk and interact with others face-to-face, make eye contact—it’s one of the best ways for someone to feel you’re trying to connect with them and interested in what they have to say.
3.) Ask “get to know you” type of questions of your co-workers. “How long have you been working here?” “Do you live close?” “What did you do before you worked here?” are great conversation starters.
4.) If there are group lunches and potlucks going on—participate.
Q. And then at the other end there are people who can be bullies and downright mean? What are your tips on dealing with such co-workers or managers?
My best tip is to avoid them, but if that’s not possible, try to reduce the amount of contact you have with them and any contact that you do have to have with them, just keep it professional. Mean people and bullies exist almost everywhere, but if you pay close attention, they usually tend to pick on people they either get a response from, and/or those that tolerate their nonsense. Don’t respond to their jabs if at all possible. Just go on with your day—they’ll notice that they aren’t able to get to you and will move on to another target.
If you must respond, keep it respectful and don’t stoop to their level. Saying something to the effect of “It’s not okay for you to talk to me like that” is perfectly acceptable. If it continues, try to resolve the issue directly with them by saying something like “I’d really like to work out this tension we have between us, but I need you to meet me half way. What can we do to find a common ground and fix this?” Most of the time this will work, but there will be a few times it won’t and when it doesn’t, it’s a good thing to take the situation to the next level and report what’s been going on and the actions you’ve taken to try to improve the situation.
Most companies have a chain of command you can report a workplace bully to. If you’re having a problem with a co-worker, report it to your supervisor. If your supervisor is the problem, report to his or her supervisor. Companies want to see their employees happy because happy employees and good morale make for a productive workplace environment so most companies will work with you to help you resolve the issue. Don’t be afraid to use the retargets available to you.
Q. Why do you think working on building good relations at the workplace matters now more than ever before?
I think it matters now more than ever because many people don’t have the skills to build them anymore. With all things digital and less and less reasons to interact face-to-face, we’re losing our social skills and our ability to work and connect with others. Also, from the perspective of keeping your job, remember, if your employer is looking to lay people off, don’t give him/her a reason. If you’re always having run-ins with coworkers, customers or your supervisors you can become a target for a layoff very quickly when budget cuts are needed.
On the other hand, if you’re likeable and good for company morale, your company will be more inclined to keep you around as long as possible.
Christina Steinorth MA MFT is a psychotherapist and a popular relationship expert on radio and in print. Her advice has been featured in publications such as Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Woman’s Day, Fox News Magazine, and The Chicago Tribune, among many others. Her new book is Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships (Hunter House, 2013). Learn more at http://www.christinasteinorth.com/.