Imagine that you’re sitting at your desk and your co-worker, Tanya, walks by holding a sign-up sheet for the company’s kickball team. Without even pausing, she passes you and asks your neighbor if he’d like to join. Maybe you didn’t opt to participate in the softball league last season, but that doesn’t mean you’ve sworn off all organized sports forever. But, instead of piping up and asking if there’s space for you to play, you let your mind wander with worry: Maybe Tanya intentionally didn’t stop at your spot. Maybe she and others don’t want you on the team.
You may not be a social butterfly, but you like to hang out with your co-workers, at least every now and then. If you find yourself opting out more often than you opt in, you might want to take a close look at how this appears to your colleagues. Is it possible that your work demeanor (business first!) has colored your co-workers’ impression of you? Are you inadvertently intimidating your colleagues with your head-down approach to tackling each day?
If you’re guilty of one or more of these three common (but potentially problematic) habits, then the answer is probably yes, your co-workers are scared to approach you.
1. You Live in Your Headphones
Listening to music while working can aid focus and block out distractions. But it also makes it hard for a colleague to strike up a conversation with you. Concentration is necessary for meeting deadlines, but consider the benefits of taking a mental break every now and again—that means parting with those headphones and being open to conversation.
Heck, you could even go the extra mile and initiate one yourself. Don’t always wait to be included. Be the outgoing person sometimes, and show your colleagues you’re nothing if not approachable.
2. You Rarely Engage in Office Banter
Not everyone enjoys office banter (pretty rampant in open office setups) and maybe you avoid joining the chatter around you more often than not. You may even be the office introvert, but, regardless of your social preferences, you should still sometimes put forth an effort with your extroverted colleagues.
Start small. Maybe instead of chiming into the discussion on this season’s The Walking Dead with eight of your nearest co-workers, you initiate a more intimate meeting (coffee!) with a member of your team.
This set-up gives you an opportunity to get to know someone in a relaxed setting, without having to put yourself out there with a big group. Making this kind of effort demonstrates that you do care about getting to know your co-workers beyond the shared spreadsheet.
3. You’re Always in a Rush
Moving quickly—from the door, to your desk, to the bathroom, back to your desk—may be your normal pace, but to others, it just looks like you’re in a huge hurry. When you seem like you’re in a rush, most people’ll be reluctant to interrupt you, for fear that you’re too busy for them. Eating lunch at your desk reinforces the impression that you don’t have time to spare. And, if you never ever stick around for happy hour, your co-workers probably don’t have the first clue about how to include you in things.
It might not be easy, but what if you tried changing up your routine every now and then? Give the impression that, while busy and focused, you’re not so crazed that people should fear approaching you. Join your team for lunch in the office kitchen one afternoon, or check out one of the many social events on offer. Stop and say more than two words to your colleague the next time you bump into each other in the hall; prove that you do come up for air every now and again.
Make it a goal this week to try maybe one or two of these bad habits to increase your approachability. You don’t have to completely change your routines, but one or two small changes can make a big difference in how your co-workers view you. While you may never be considered the office social butterfly (not your goal, anyway) you do wish to be included. So, next time, don’t be afraid to pipe up and show your interest when it’s time for team sign-ups. You never know, you may even become the next MVP of the office cornhole league.
Photo of people working courtesy of xavierarnau/Getty Images.