For the first few months of my current job, I was the black sheep of the office.
On the first morning, things didn’t seem so bad. My onboarding class was full of smiling colleagues, and I easily found a group of potential work friends; I could see happy hours galore in my future.
But when we took a break for lunch, the conversation went into uncharted territory—everyone began talking about guilds, warlocks, and raids.
It turned out that my new friends—all of them—were avid World of Warcraft players. Once they realized this commonality, every conversation before work, during work, and after work revolved around whose character did what or when the next update was scheduled.
And for the girl whose gaming experience was limited to a short RollerCoaster Tycoon stint in middle school, it just didn’t click. I tried to join in the conversation, change the topic, or at least take an interest in my teammates’ hobby, but nothing really worked. We just didn’t have much in common. And so, I became the odd one out.
But after weeks of solitary lunches and an absence of post-work happy hours, I knew something had to change, and, determined to figure out how to find friends in the office, I gave it another go. Whether you’re stuck in a corner cube away from the hubbub of the office or just slow to spark office friendships, here’s what I’ve learned about building work relationships.
1. Don’t Stop Trying
Ultimately, my biggest hindrance was simply that once I determined my co-workers weren’t exactly friend material, I gave up. Instead of meeting them for lunch, I’d eat at my desk. When they’d invite me to a game night, I’d politely decline. I repeatedly refused to get caught in another awkward situation where I couldn’t follow—let alone add to—the conversation.
But what I failed to remember is that people are multi-faceted. As much as it seemed to me that they only things they wanted to talk about were gaming and live action role play, they had other interests, too.
To hone in on those, though, I had to change my approach a bit. Instead of meeting up with a huge group of them, which usually fueled the gaming conversation, I initiated more one-on-one lunches or outings. And when I did that, it was much easier to broaden the conversation and find other things we had in common.
Now, your situation may not be quite like mine—but the point here is that even when it feels like you’re doomed to friendlessness at work, keep trying. Try different approaches if you have to. I promise, it will pay off in the end.
2. Take Advantage of Social Opportunities
You might think this tip goes without saying, but in my situation, after my rough start at the office, I didn’t want to bother with company social events—because even if I went, I probably wouldn’t have anyone to talk to.
So, even though my company offered occasional family days, new hire mingles, and networking events, I ignored the invites and opted for a solitary glass of wine at home on the couch after work instead.
The thing is, if you choose this path, you don’t even have a chance of building new relationships at work. But the more you show up and make an effort to meet and interact with your colleagues, the stronger your friendships will become. (Not to mention that the activity of the day can give you another topic to talk about than, say, World of Warcraft.)
3. Join Cross-Departmental Teams
If your company doesn’t host many social events or your current co-workers aren’t big on happy hours, you still have options. I found that I could expand my circle of friends at work if I went outside the confines of my department and was able to meet the employees from other teams.
So, when an email came out from HR asking for volunteers to join the committee for coordinating the company’s Customer Service Week, I jumped on board. The group met twice a week for a few months, and I soon became familiar with each face that sat around the table. We had one common topic to chat about, which gave me the foot in the door to lead into other conversations.
If a chance comes up to join a similar cross-departmental team at your company—volunteer. And let your boss know that if any multi-team projects or committees start up, you’d like to be considered to represent your department. You’ll prove you’re a team player—and give yourself a chance to connect with a new group of faces.
4. Be Helpful
One of the most helpful lessons I’ve learned about building work relationships is perhaps the most obvious—and it’s one that will benefit you socially and in your overall career advancement. It’s simple: When someone approaches you for help, do whatever you can to assist.
Eventually, you’ll develop a reputation for your great attitude and a desire to help your co-workers—and in my experience, you’ll then become the go-to person for more than just work requests.
For example, I found that when I was open and willing to help my co-workers from all across the company, they came to me to join the company softball league or run on their 5K teams—and out of those things came opportunities to develop deeper friendships.
When you don’t immediately click with your co-workers, it can be easy to sink into a friendless rut. But be patient and keep trying: Taking the time to find people to connect with and develop those relationships will yield a huge return on investment.