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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The Introvert's Pain-Free Guide to Socializing With Co-workers

I’m not sure about you, but sometimes after a long day at work, I want nothing more than to go straight home, pour myself a glass of wine, and throw together an easy but delicious bowl of pasta with fried eggs and Parmesan cheese. My fiancé and I might catch up on Homeland or our reading. While I’m technically an extrovert, I definitely have those introverted tendencies.

So I know that if you’re someone who prefers to keep to yourself—head down, clear focus on the day’s task, followed by a chill evening with your roommate or yourself—navigating your office’s social scene can be tricky and maybe even a little frustrating.

Maybe you’re well-versed in making small talk in the kitchen or on the way up the elevator in the morning, but you’d rather not partake in the group lunch every other Friday or the standing Wednesday night happy hour.

There are no rules about how often you should socialize with your co-workers, and you’re not going to lose your job if you avoid all out-of-office extracurricular activities. But, there is probably a happy medium here, as there are with most things, and making a little effort on occasion could help you get to know people better, build relationships in the office, and avoid coming across as rude when you repeatedly decline invitations.

Yes, introverts can socialize OOO—and maybe even have fun doing it. Here’s how:

1. Say Yes…Sometimes

Yes, even if you don’t want to. But this doesn’t have to mean all the time. If your office is the type to socialize after hours on a very regular basis, maybe this means you participate in every fourth or fifth outing. Tell yourself that you’re going to try hard to have fun. Then, make an effort to strike up a conversation with at least two people—they can be people you work closely with and like or ones you only know by name. Best case scenario: You connect with someone on a deeper level and enjoy yourself. Worst case? You lose an hour of you-time.

2. Go, But Bow Out Early

Often, just showing up makes a difference. I remember one job I had where although I really liked the work, I wasn’t crazy about my co-workers. For me, it wasn’t a matter of being introverted, but it was an issue of learning to tolerate my colleagues outside of the office. Once a month, my boss loved taking the team out for a wine and cheese meeting. Our “meeting” would last for 10 minutes, and then it was all play.

Instead of leaving immediately, I drank my wine and ate my cheese, expressed interest in my perfectly nice co-workers, and then beelined before the server came over with more Chardonnay. Sure, it took some effort on my part, but that effort made a difference and helped foster a convivial feeling among us all. So, you go along with the plan (on occasion), you stay a respectable amount of time, and then you politely bid adieu.

3. Start Your Own Circle

I’m not talking about forming an exclusive work clique—that’s another easy way to be seen as rude—but what about trying to connect with a couple of people on your own terms? Hopefully, there’s at least one person you have something in common with, a co-worker who you could see yourself having a conversation with outside of the office.

It’s not going to be the easiest thing, but if you find yourself not wanting to accept any of the workplace social invites coming your way, maybe you need to be the inviter. You’ll probably find that cutting out a little early (if you can) on a Friday and going out for a beer with Kev and Sophia in accounting is way better than only ever burying yourself in your work.

If you’re not inclined to be the social butterfly of the office, that’s OK. The older I get, the more I value my time, so I really do understand wanting to just do your thing. But I also know that it won’t kill you to break out of your shell once in a while, and if you’re at a company you could see yourself growing with, getting to know your colleagues in a social setting might just give you the edge you need to get ahead and make a solid impression.

Photo of happy hour courtesy of Shutterstock.