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How To Bond With Your Co-Workers Without Telling Your Business – And Feeling Like A Phony | Essence



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Everyone has met a nosy co-worker more interested in your weekend plans than your professional achievements. And while it’s understandable to want to avoid them like the plague, dodging their questions without alienating them is key. The truth is that failing to connect with your co-workers and others within your industry can harm your career goals. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research, “Between likability and competence, people value likable colleagues (regardless of their competence level) more than competent colleagues.”

It’s helpful to understand why co-workers want to befriend you. Michaiah Dominguez-Brown, Ph.D., explains that work could be a lifeline to social interaction for some. She compares the office to elementary school, a cradle for social connections. “Proximity typically means friendship,” she tells ESSENCE. “There is no playground for adults. The closest thing that we have to a playground is the workspace.”

You don’t have to attend every company happy hour or gab about Vanderpump Rules after hours on Slack to be successful. Still, you should have a strategy for dealing with the interpersonal nature of the workplace. “As much as we want to believe that work can just be work, it is a social environment,” says Dominguez-Brown.

This strategy is necessary because advancing in the workplace without colleague support is not easy, as research shows.

“I won’t say that you cannot be successful if people don’t care for you, but it is a tough hill to climb, and you’re not given the benefit of the doubt,” says Karan Ferrell-Rhodes, a human resources and leadership expert.

Nina Westbrook, licensed marriage and family therapist and host of Do Tell Relationship Podcast, recommends setting firm parameters and prioritizing self-care to avoid violating your boundaries. “Allocate specific times for work-related activities and personal time and stick to them,” she suggests via email. “Remember to prioritize self-care and honor your personal needs while pursuing your career aspirations. In order to be your best at work, we have to be able to take care of ourselves first.”

When interacting with your colleagues, uncomfortable topics may come up in conversation. Gena Cox, Ph.D., recommends going on the offensive when asked about something you don’t feel comfortable sharing. “Maybe what you can do is just respond by talking about the things that you do want to talk about,” she says.

For example, when the person in the cubicle next to you asks if your partner will ever pop the question, distract them with a cute story about something your pet did over the weekend. “For things that you are comfortable sharing, make sure that you contribute to those conversations,” Ferrell-Rhodes says. “So you might not want to talk about your partners, spouse, or family. But if you love to travel and you’re willing to talk about that, then maybe share.”

The organizational psychologist practices this in her own professional life. She provides select details about her spouse and children to those who want to know more about her personal life and shuts down the rest. “People who are doing that will probably go away if you give them a little tidbit, just enough about the things that you want to talk about,” she says.

Listening to your teammates and learning what interests them is also helpful. See if there’s any overlap in their interests that you’re comfortable connecting over. “One effective strategy is to find common interests among co-workers, fostering bonds without delving into excessively personal topics,” declares clinical psychologist Ryan C. Warner, Ph.D.

“You can turn the tables on them and have them talk about some area or list of areas that they’re passionate about, and then you can put on your active listening because you can usually pick out one or two things that you value as well,” Ferrell-Rhodes adds.

Westbrook offers techniques for demonstrating team spirit without feeling like you’re doing too much. “You can initiate thoughtful gestures like bringing in treats for your team, organizing lunchtime gatherings centered around work-related discussions or hobbies, or volunteering to help out with projects,” she says. “Building camaraderie through mutual respect and collaboration can help you to create meaningful relationships without delving too much into your personal life.”

Bragging about how your only goals are to clock in and clock only out won’t win you any brownie points. Make yourself open to creating connections, but ensure you do so without compromising your values or comfort.

“We don’t have to walk around with the scroll and open up and make declarations as to what we’re going to participate in and what we’re not,” advises Dominguez-Brown. Instead, Cox says, find a way to implement your boundaries respectfully.

“One of the things that you have to really think about is making sure that even as you are sort of setting those boundaries or maybe not giving a person, the other person, everything they need, you have to make sure that people still feel seen, heard and valued.”

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