Adulting 101: Making Friends at Work

Hey, everyone! Today, I wanted to talk about something that has been kind of an Achilles heel for me, and, I suspect, many of you as well- the wild wild west that is adult socialization.

When you’re in college, you tend to get lumped in with a “squad” based on a strange mixture of convenience and structure: the girls you pledged a sorority with, a roommate, that person that lent you their textbook in the first week of the semester. Or maybe you run into someone who grew up in the same approximate geographic locale as you. Whatever it is, you’ve got some *very*  topical things in common that pull you together.

What no one tells you is, that “stuck like glue”, “omg we are going to be bffs for life” feeling is not actually glue at all, but in a lot of cases, more like a soft, fluffy little snowflake that dissolves as soon as it hits the ground (aka graduation). We’re old enough to think we’re mature, and young enough to still have a rosy, high-school tinged approach to life, love, and friendships.

If it sounds a little bitter of me, I apologize- that’s definitely not my intent behind this post, although the events of the last year have kind of opened my eyes to the world of fair weather friends. Friends I viewed as family folded on me, girls I naively thought I would have in my life forever unfriended me on social (oh, the agony), and others just turned out to be downright not good people. At the same time, as I entered full time work, adult sleep cycles, put down the party lifestyle and picked up some killer self help books, I started putting together a clearer picture of life outside the bubble. Along the way, I started getting more and more outside my comfort zone socially, meeting really cool people, and learning a lot about how to navigate adult relationships in the process. The most important thing I learned was that socialization starts in the workplace.

I want to touch on my rules of thumb for making friends as an adult in a workplace setting because 1) I actually am one now, as opposed to in college, 2) As someone who suffers from anxiety and knows how common it is, if I can help someone else, that’s amazing, and 3) Because people are gonna disappoint you, but they can also surprise you- which is a very good thing.

So, without further ado, here we go!

Start small.

The first step to socialization in an unfamiliar setting (e.g. your first workplace) starts in the smallest of interactions. Think the water cooler, the coffee machine, a training workshop. You might feel scared- trust me, every time I open my mouth I am terrified that I’ll say the wrong thing, that everyone is going to know just how strange I am- but even just saying hi is enough. Introduce yourself, because you’re new which seems scary as hell, but is actually the world’s best icebreaker. Then, they know your name and maybe a small fact about you, you know theirs, and you can build from there.

Maybe you’re lucky enough to have been hired along with a few others around the same time, like I was. You can use that commonality to build something much in the way you would in college, but at a much different pace.

Use your pets.

Hey, if you got it, flaunt it! Everyone likes cute animals, and even if they’re a cat person and you’re a dog person, or vice versa, that just opens the floor for a good-natured debate. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve felt socially flustered and just started brandishing pictures of Banana around (thank god I have the Betty White of cats-universally beloved). Again, an icebreaker, and definitely something that will stick in someone’s mind when you interact with them later on.

Decorate your desk.

Admittedly, this is something I still have yet to do- working on my budget for the At Home Store presently. But I will say I’ve gone out of my way to approach a co-worker’s desk if they’ve set out a bowl of candy, or have a cool knick-knack I am curious about. It definitely makes you seem relatable and friendly.

Only share what you’re comfortable with.

I used to confide in every person I met. I would literally tell them every small detail about my life, my hopes and fears- and then when we drifted apart, I was upset because I had invested a lot emotionally into people who, quite frankly, just didn’t reciprocate that. It gave me a lot of anxiety and I struggled with it a lot this year, but came to a conclusion that I feel comfortable with: as an adult, you can pick and choose who knows what, and you don’t have to tell your life story to everyone you meet. Not everyone is going to be your soul sister, and part of being an adult is compartmentalizing friendships of varying depths- something I used to previously think only social butterflies were capable of. It actually feels really good to keep some things to myself and the people closest to me.

Be helpful.

I mean, you definitely don’t want to be lazy if you want to advance up the corporate ladder, but being someone that people can count on actually has great social cred as well. People view you in a more positive light, and that means that you’re more likely to get asked to join for lunch, or be invited to hang out outside of work. But be genuine about it- being a brown-noser or a gossip gets you nowhere.

Put yourself out there.

Sounds so cliche, but if you don’t leave your house, you won’t get anywhere in the friend department. Ask your desk buddy to go on a coffee run with you, grab those company tickets to the game, make a quick appearance at happy hour- get your face and name out there. You’re gonna find someone who has the same sense of humor as you, watches the same shows, or just who plainly enjoys your company. And, maybe- surprise of all surprises- they will ask YOU to coffee next time. Mama, you made it.

Don’t give up.

Trust me, it is tough. You’re not always going to feel comfortable, and it can be really discouraging, especially on the heels of some pretty crappy friendships. But things get better, and the longer you keep at it, the more comfortable you will be with the people you work alongside. Some of them might even be pretty cool.

To recap, not everyone is going to stick with you for life, and what I’ve learned recently is that is a very good thing. You are completely within your right to shed friendships that no longer serve as a source of comfort or strength, and will be that much happier for it. It’s not the end of the world- it’s just a new chapter, and you need to be open to all the possibilities.

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