Socially Awkward At Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being shy:

I’ve just been hired for a two-month, short-term job. My intention for taking the position was to learn the skills since I just graduated from University. Another student worker, who has been here for three weeks, trained me. She is talkative and outgoing. I am more of an introvert and passive at socializing. I feel socially awkward comparatively when I am working because she is always going around the cubicles, talking to the other co-workers during work hours. However, when it’s only me in the cubicle, no one talks to me.

I tried to smile to everyone I see and say “hello” and “goodbye” to everyone who crosses my spot. My supervisor doesn’t come to see how I am doing. Whenever I go to his desk after work to say goodbye, he is already gone. Comparatively, he would chat with the other student worker and come over to greet her. I feel the most awkward when people come to talk to her but never acknowledge me whose desk is sitting beside her. I feel like I should not interrupt their conversations since I don’t know anyone that they are talking about. In addition to that, I wasn’t introduced to everyone. One time when the team that I was assigned to work in went out for lunch, I was not invited. I only found that out when I overheard the neighboring cubicle talking about it. This has been happening for a week now. How should I act so I feel more comfortable around this office environment?

Signed, Shy

Dear Shy:

Only one week on the job as an intern and you are feeling socially awkward! Obviously you feel unsure of yourself and are like a newcomer to a party hoping someone will invite you into on-going conversations. Don’t think awkward. You are doing what is expected socially for newcomers, greeting with hello and/or a smile. Your job is to learn what one has to know to work in this organization. Make that your focus and forget about feeling socially awkward.

Soak up what you can and ask, ask, ask about the what, where, when, and how of what you are assigned to do. Since you are there as an intern, you will be expected to ask others about their work. Of course read all you can about the company and play the role of a reporter assigned to write a report updating what you’ve read. You surely know how to say, “My name is Kim and I’m an intern. Is it ok if I ask about what you do here?”

Also, you can ask Ms. Talkative and Outgoing to introduce you to a couple of people. Tell her that her job training should include helping you learn the ropes and get acquainted as she has with everyone. Ask her advice about what you should do to make the most of your internship.

I have my students seek career advice from alumni of our school. One byproduct of you internship can be to get to know at least one or two individuals whom you can ask for career advice. Think of that as adding names to your career path network. I’ve copied a dozen short dos and don’t sent by one alum who has worked with several different companies such as FedEx and now is Manager of Human Resources at Harvest Valley Bakery, LaSalle, IL

1. Never say anything negative about anybody. 2. Always be positive. 3. Leave your problems at home. 4. When in doubt, ask your boss. 5. Never assume ANYTHING. 6. Find out who’s related to whom and who’s politically connected to whom. 7. Avoid the ass kissers like the plague (I’m sure you can think of a more politically correct term than I provided, I just can’t think of one now). 8. Do whatever it takes to do the best you can. 9. When writing a report for others to see, re-edit it at least 3 times. 10. Be kind and generous to everyone, regardless of how you truly feel about them. 11. OH – the big one – Never ever go out drinking or on a date with anyone from work; it always comes back to bite you on the butt (Again, another politically incorrect term). 12. Keep a record of every contact you make in the job world–you never know who may be able to help you in the future. –Dan Kearney, HR Manager.

My first advice is to quit describing your self to your self and others as socially awkward. Instead focus on the job you’ve been assigned. My second bit of advice is to incidentally and gradually in conversations see how many succinct bits of career advice you can elicit from those who work in the cubicles.

Incidentally, I’ve slighted revised the wording in the question you sent us. In light of this one sample of your writing, I suggest in any time you can spare that you work on writing. Possibly ask one of the employees in your area to read some of what you write and help you improve your wording. Graduating from college is not the end of your education. Learning on the job is your schooling now. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. You are now working together, however much you feel you are working solo. So use this time to learn what can make working together successful and fun.

William Gorden