Q: I'm considered a loner at work. The problem is, I don't really want to be. I'd like to be one of the gang, but I don't know what to do to build closer relationships. It's always been kind of hard for me, but now that I'm in the workforce it's even worse. What can I do?
A: It's lonely to feel on the outside looking in, and there are ways to create the connections you seek.
It sounds like you've had some successes on this front in your life, so think about ways to recreate some of the aspects of life that made this possible. When did you feel the strongest sense of community?
Perhaps it was in an organized setting like school or a team, or was related to having a close friend who you felt really "got" you. Maybe it had to do with a common interest or a shared responsibility.
Take a moment to let yourself enjoy the feeling that you have when you feel like you fit in.
Now think about the origins of your reputation at work. For someone who is less skilled in relationships, your reaction under stress (such as when starting a new job) may have been to focus on getting the work right at the expense of the social side. Or your body language may send a closed off message. If that's been the case, you'll have some recovery to do.
It doesn't sound like the people are against you; if they think of you as a loner, they may even be accepting and trying to give you the environment you prefer.
When you think about the workday, what are the typical times and situations that you'd like to change? This might include bigger events like going to lunch or happy hour down to the little things like the quick chat at the printer or at someone's desk.
As you list them, nothing is too small, and may differ from person to person on your team. Mark whether you think they'd be easy to achieve or more challenging, and give just a bit of thought to the reasons for your feelings about this.
Moving forward into action, start with the easy steps, and start creating opportunities.
For example, if you want more casual conversations during the day, be ready with a conversation opener. Eye contact, a smile, and a casual, "having a good day?" while passing in the hallway can go a long way.
Another way to build connection is through work-related interaction. If you have a question, rather than e-mailing, call or stop by someone's desk to get the information you need. And make a point of getting involved on team projects so that you're working side by side with people.
Do these steps seem daunting? If so, what fears are holding you back? People may be surprised when you start showing more openness, and may not know how to take it at first.
Remember that everyone is busy, so if someone isn't responsive it's probably not personal. And, if you stay the course, they're likely to forget they ever saw you as a loner.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at email@example.com.