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Workplace Tips for the Socially Challenged

Are you the type of person who hates to be interrupted at work with “good mornings” and other niceties? Do you routinely avoid the break room or eat lunch alone at your desk? Do your coworkers hang out socially, but rarely invite you for an after-work drink?

While you may think of yourself as an introvert, your coworkers may be interpreting your communication cues quite differently. They may feel that you're impolite, snobby, or antisocial.

So often, simple interactions and misunderstandings can lead to negative feelings and poor workplace relationships. Here are a few actionable tips that will help improve the way you interact with others help you create a more favorable image at work.

  • Mind your moods. Everyone has bad moods; what differentiates adults from children is our ability to exercise impulse control and to articulate how we feel. When you grumble, stew, or frown, everyone around you has to walk on eggshells. 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 or her behavior affects others. Try to be aware of what’s going on with the person you’re talking to. If she seems busy, distracted, or upset, ask if this is a good time to talk. Even if you think what you have to say is important, forcing her to listen on your terms won't get your message across effectively.
  • Resolve problems directly. Whenever possible, deal directly with the person with whom you're having a conflict. Approach the coworker respectfully and in private. Use specific examples so your colleague understands your concerns. Tell him you'd like to reach an agreement and ask for his help in doing so. Don’t go above a coworker's head without first trying to work it out with him or her.
  • Be open to constructive criticism. When a coworker or supervisor offers a suggestion about how you might do something differently, don't snap at him or get defensive. Keep quiet, take a breath, and try to really listen to what he's saying. Use it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and own up to your mistakes.
  • Pay attention to nonverbal communication. You send lots of messages to others through your tone, volume, expression, and body language—not just your words. Do you look interested when others speak, or are you distracted and impatient? When you speak, do you give others their personal space or lean into theirs and speak too loud? Pay attention when people make comments such as, “You look angry” or “You seem stressed out.” This is most likely your nonverbal communication speaking.
  • A rose is a rose. This should go without saying, but grooming matters. If coworkers avoid you, there may be a good reason. You may have bad breath or body odor. Even if you showered today, you may still have a noticeable odor if you're wearing unwashed clothes. Good grooming and fastidious personal hygiene are part of a professional persona. Poor personal-care habits alienate others and could even prevent you from advancing in your career.

If you find that people at work avoid you, it's time to look in the mirror. Consider:
—How do you interact with others on a daily basis?
—Are you considered easy or difficult to work with?
—Is it your way or the highway?

Try to imagine what it would be like working with you, then make a few small changes in your communication style. Watch how quickly your workplace relationships improve as a result.

About the Author(s)

Christina Steinorth, MA, MFT is a psychotherapist and relationship expert. Her advice has been featured in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Woman's Day, Fox News Magazine, and the Chicago Tribune, among many others. Her new book is Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships (Hunter House, 2013). For more information, visit www.christinasteinorth.com