The Challenges Of Socializing At An Office Job (When You're Less Social By Nature)

Socializing at work doesn't enjoy the best reputation among people who aren't naturally outgoing. This article will focus on the unique social circumstances that office jobs create. I'm hardly a veteran, but I've put in some time at those types of places. Part-time and blue collar jobs have different dynamics, and I won't deal with them here.

Sometimes when I hear someone who describes themselves as not that naturally sociable, and they're complaining about the aspects of the interpersonal world they don't enjoy, I wonder how much of their opinion of the interpersonal world is based on all those unrewarding hours they've spent at the office. I mean hanging out with your friends is one thing, everyone likes that. Co-workers can be harder to connect with.

Challenges of socializing at the office

Challenges everybody has to deal with

In no particular order, here's a list of ways socializing at work can be less than ideal. At a glance this list may seem way too detailed, nitpicky, and whiny. I admit most of these things aren't horrible, especially once you get used to them. However, I'd say that they are all still technically social issues that can come up at work:

Challenges specific to employees who aren't super social by nature

Besides from more systemic problems, being at work usually carries specific challenges for less-naturally sociable people:

My suggestions for making socializing at the office more tolerable

Below I'll cover two broad approaches to handling the social issues that crop up in the office. Before that, here are some more general points:

Your co-workers probably aren't that bad

In spite of the dozen or so reasons I gave as to why socializing at work can be annoying, most of your co-workers are probably pretty good people if you give them a chance. If you get to know them better you'll probably find things to like. If you dig around you may find hidden commonalities. That said, some of your co-workers may not be the greatest. You can't expect to click with everyone. But you may be able to get along with even them a little bit better if you try.

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Accept that the office environment isn't totally set up the way you want for socializing

Similar to dealing with loud, chaotic group conversations, I think a big part of improving your attitude toward working at an office can be to realize it's probably never going to be an ideal setting. Even if you take steps to bend it to your style it's not going to be 100% perfect. You aren't always going to have space when you want it. Sometimes you'll have to give ten different people the same summary of what you're planning to do on Thanksgiving. Your co-workers are going to have certain social expectations of you that they're never totally going to drop.

When you believe there's a possibility that you can have your own space, or that your fellow employees will be understanding of your needs, it's only normal to get annoyed when you're deprived of these things. If you have no expectations, and don't feel any of these things are a given, you can't care as much if you don't get them. Similarly, if you see all the "How was your weekend?" fluff as unavoidable, you may become more easygoing about playing along and making the best of it. If your co-workers ever do accommodate you in some way, enjoy it as a bonus.

As much as you can, try to take what you need from the work environment

Most of the advice I've read on this topic falls into this camp. You may have heard it before too:

These fit into the idea of getting away with doing your own thing socially.

The idea of solving some problems by being more social, not less

Lots of people go the route above and leave it at that. My own experiences at work led me to come to a solution that's more counter-intuitive. It may not be for everyone, and those readers can always stick to the ideas from before, but I found the following helpful. It goes like this:

Often, when people feel things weren't going well socially with their co-workers, their natural tendency is to pull away from them. If socializing with them is causing issues then it seems the solution would be to avoid the problem. Ironically, this avoidance can make the situation worse. If things with their co-workers were only mildly distant and awkward before, now they're even more so.

When people are having these problems, it may be because they're not being social enough, not that they're socializing too much and that's annoying them. They may not gel with their co-workers because they haven't spent enough time trying to build good relationships. It's not that everyone else at the company is inherently irritating or incompatible with them. They need to get out there and talk to everyone more, instead of trying to hole up in their office.

This suggestion assumes your co-workers are good people, and you may just not be giving them a chance due to your "I need my space" nature, or a general mild pickiness you have toward others. This isn't a cure-all though, if your co-workers really aren't your style, then being a little more sociable won't solve all your problems.

This advice also assumes that your people skills are alright, and that you could get along with your co-workers reasonably well if you tried. But if you're really awkward, reaching out to the other people in the office may backfire and leave you discouraged. However, they have to cordial to you, so it's not like there's a risk you'll be horribly shut down.

This advice may go against your instincts. It may feel like selling out or too much work to be worth bothering about. It's one of those things where you have to try it out, and you may see where the philosophy is coming from once you're on the other side.

This suggestion also believes that you can get used to having less space and alone time in certain contexts. The idea is that if you put yourself around your co-workers more, you'll build up a tolerance to not being alone when you're at work. I think this is definitely possible for some people, but not everyone feels this is something that can be changed.

Here are some suggestions for how you could be more social at work: