Dear Matt: I'm an introvert. I don't interact with my peers at work much, I don't make small talk and I don't hang out with anyone outside of work. I'm okay with this but I now realize my co-workers may not be. Got any tips for the socially challenged employee?
Matt says: I think we've all worked with the person who just wants to come to work, do their job and go home. There's nothing wrong with this -- but unfortunately, work-focused introverts are often perceived as grumps or loners by their co-workers, says Christina Steinorth (christinasteinorth.com), a psychotherapist and relationship expert who wrote the new book "Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships."
"While you may think of yourself as an introvert, your coworkers may be interpreting your communication cues quite differently," said Steinorth. "They may feel that you're impolite, snobby, or antisocial."
Steinorth says there are a number of small steps an introvert can take to alter these perceptions, including:
Mind your moods. Everyone has bad moods, but 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.
Look good, smell good. If coworkers avoid you, there maybe a reason -- you may have bad breath or body odor. Good grooming and good hygiene make a good impression. Poor personal care habits 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. Try not to go above a coworker's head without trying to work it out with him or her first.
Accept constructive criticism. When a coworker or supervisor offers a suggestion about how you might do something differently, don't snap at them or get defensive. Keep quiet, take a breath, and try to listen. Use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
"If you find that people at work avoid you," said Steinorth, "it's time to look in the mirror."
Ask yourself: 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 -- and watch how quickly your workplace relationships improve as a result.