New friends at work, sign us up!

Do you remember the first day of school? Butterflies conquered your stomach and a common worry included, “Who will I sit with at lunch?” At the end of the day, mom was there to pick you up and make everything better. While we're not children anymore, the first day at a new job often reminds us of our school days. Just like it was back then, making new friends helps to integrate into these new situations and soon the first day jitters vanish.

Making new friends at work is one of the best benefits of getting a new job. New friends inspire us to work harder and open our mind to new ideas. Office friends make going to work more pleasant and rewarding. Human resources experts say fostering new friendships increases productivity and teamwork, while reducing work-related stress.

Even though it's easy to see how friendships with co-workers are desirable, building those relationships are not as easy as it first appears. It's important not to rush into anything. Build trust and rapport with colleagues before diving in and becoming full-fledged friends. Here are five tips on how to make friends at a new job the right way, without coming off as the creepy guy no one talks to at lunchtime.

Put on a smile.

A warm, genuine smile is the best offense and defense. Smiles put everyone at ease and sends the message “I am approachable.” On the way to work, play an inspirational CD or some upbeat dance music. Roll down the windows, and sing until you're blue in the face. This improves your mood and relaxes you a little. Before you walk into the office, look in the mirror, smile and tell yourself this is going to be a good day. Positivity helps boost your smile and makes your positive demeanor more believable.

Just be careful not to overdo it. In other words, be sincere.  

Say hello and introduce yourself.

This may seem obvious or common sense. Rest assured there is no such thing as common sense. The biggest mistake most networkers make is they never introduce themselves, and you can't make new friends at work without an introduction. Don't enter the building, hang your coat, turn on the PC and start working. That sends the message you don't want to be friends with anyone. Second, no one makes friends being a wallflower. Take the time to say hello to those in your immediate work area. Don't be shy; walk right up to them, reach out your hand and say “Hello, my name is…”

On the other hand, if your colleague is stooped over piles of files, it may be wise to introduce yourself a little later. Never interrupt a conversation and don't be pushy. Again, sincerity is the key. Just be polite and introduce yourself. Don't try to start a conversation. Your co-worker will guide you. They will either start talking or go back to work.

Find a common interest – just don't be too personal.

Here comes the hard part. In order to learn what inspires your colleagues, you must listen. Pay attention to your co-workers' interests and passions. Other clues can be gathered by the photos they keep on their desk, the mugs they use and even wallpaper they use on their computer desktop. Sports is a universal passion. If you are interested in the same sporting team or event, try to spark up a conversation about a recent game.

Just don't get too personal. Mothers may feel comfortable talking about their children with other mothers. But it may make men without children a little uncomfortable. On that same note, stay away from politics and religion. There are no two topics more volatile than these. Start talking about the recent elections or a Supreme Court ruling and you may kick off World War III in the office.

Be considerate of their input.

Okay, you've been at the company for a few months, broke the ice with Al in accounting and invited him to the local college game this weekend, what's next? After extending your invitation, your co-worker may decline. It's not the answer you should listen to but how they answered. If they volunteer information that they're busy but otherwise would love to go, keep them in mind for next time.

On the other hand, should they tell you no in a determined, short answer, respond warmly, tell them thanks for their time and move on. No one wants to feel pushed into being friends. Take rejection in stride. It's not you – hopefully. Some people just aren't compatible as friends.

Don't rush into things.

One of the common themes we've reiterated is patience. Building friendships takes time and making friends at work is no exception. A job is a long-term commitment, and you're going to be around your co-workers for at least a year. There's no need to rush. There is no need to rush in adding people to social media, inviting people for beers after work or learning all their children's' names. It's better to take time and cultivate lasting relationships. Rushing makes you seem desperate and weird. This will more than likely push people away, instead of making any true friends.

What if I never make friends?

This may be a realistic fear for some. There are work environments that simply prevent people from becoming friends. Whether you don't have time to mingle, feel uncomfortable or your co-workers just don't fit with your idea of friends, there are no guarantees you will find you BFF at work. Before deciding it's hopeless, take a look at the above warnings and tips. Are you pushing them away? Did you try too hard too soon? If you determine it's not your fault, then a new environment may be in order.

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Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

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