BreakingModern — You’re used to living in a different world, a world filled with peers your own age, easily accessible get-togethers and a relatively common ground with most people you meet. You know, college. But once you land an office job, things get tricky. Jobs come with pre-established cliques, impenetrable professional attitudes and forced interaction with the same, often small group of people every day, whether you like them or not. But you still want real friends, not just friendly work acquaintances, and work is the best place to find them. After all, your work is probably the majority of your social interaction, especially if your college friends are scattered across the country seeking job opportunities.
Find a Mentor
Let’s face it — if your co-workers are older than you, there’s going to be a disconnect. Data shows that older workers and recent grads have different attitudes and expectations in the workplace. Younger people tend to be over-optimistic about work, are less likely to consider staying in their jobs permanently, have less patience with corporate minutia like filling out forms and are way more likely to be underemployed for their degree. Your older co-workers could be more settled, feel they already have enough friends or simply not understand your mentality. So a friendly 40-year-old co-worker might not be chomping at the bit to ask you out for happy hour drinks. But one common relationship between older, more-established employees and new employees is the mentor/mentee relationship. If you’re friendly with an older co-worker, ask if you can buy them a coffee and hear their career trajectory. See if they have any tips about great places to go after work. Ask them for advice. Listen, really listen, and treat them and their career journey with respect and reverence. You’ll make them feel important, and you might learn something yourself. You both could develop a closeness that will keep each other coming to birthday parties and baby showers for years to come.
Scope the Area
So you found a co-worker your own age, and you want to schedule some one-on-one friendship-building time. But how do you break through the corporate veneer in a way that’s casual but professional? When you’re driving home, take a look around the neighborhood. See if there are any bars or restaurants that look semi-interesting. Or, if you’ve been living in the area a while, get on the mailing lists for different venues that hold local events. It’s much easier to ask someone to spend time with you outside of work when there’s actually something to do, and a pre-scheduled activity mitigates any transitional work-to-play awkwardness by providing a convenient distraction.
Don’t Let Work Performance Affect Your Relationships
You messed up. Big time. You might get fired, or you might get a slap on the wrist. It’s easy to feel like everyone’s mad at you, and you feel like trying to avoid people as much as possible. But even if it was a terrible mistake, people are probably too busy with their own issues to spend much time mulling over yours. In fact, your timidity could be interpreted as unfriendliness and make the situation even worse. If you’ve messed up, own it and admit it. And even if you’re still smarting from your misstep, continue to greet everyone with a smile as if you’re on top of your game. Odds are, they’ve been there, or will be there. As long as you don’t believe your intrinsic value has diminished because of a few slip-ups, they won’t either. On the flip side, if someone screws up and you have to clean up the mess, don’t give them the cold shoulder. Showing even a little compassion will go a long way with struggling co-workers, and a helping hand or a kind word could even lead to the formation of an even-stronger bond between the two of you.
Don’t Talk About Work
This may seem counter-intuitive, since work is your common ground. To be fair, talking about your career works wonderfully in the beginning, especially if you’re talking to a potential mentor. But they — and you — spend so much time working that continuous discussions about the workplace can quickly become tedious and frustrating. Slowly try to edge the conversation toward more personal topics, like hobbies and family. Casually bring up your addiction to Mario Kart and see if they reiterate. If they bring something up, like a husband or a favorite author, ask questions about that person or topic. Even if it’s something you know nothing about, it’ll build a foundation for talking about other more-personal topics. Above all, remember — your work friends might be afraid of rejection, too. You have to be the one to make the first move. For BMod, I’m Alison Maney. Featured/First image credit: © ryanking999 / Dollar Photo Club Second image credit: © Rob / Dollar Photo Club