Starting a new job has its perks—like how nobody at your new gig remembers that time when you walked out of the office bathroom with your skirt tucked into your tights. But being the new girl can also be lonely. In the best-case scenario, your office mates will welcome you into their club with open arms, but in many cases, building relationships at work isn’t quite that easy.
Whether you find yourself in a close-knit office where everyone seems like they’ve been friends forever, or you’re just a little shy, follow these easy steps to break the ice with your new co-workers.
Step 1: Get Those Friendship Juices Flowing
The key to striking up a conversation with anyone—be it a co-worker, a date, or the president of your company—is to ask her open-ended questions about herself. Ask your cube-mate where she got her fabulous skirt, how she spent her weekend, or where the photo on her desk was taken. Be sincerely interested in her hobbies and family life, and try to remember a few details for future conversations.
The real key here is to be sincere. Dale Carnegie, the grandfather of self-help books, said it best in the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Step 2: Be Someone You’d Want to be Friends With
I like to think of this step as channeling your inner Ellen DeGeneres. After all, when was the last time you heard anyone say they hate Ellen? Answer: never. Everyone loves her because she doesn’t take herself too seriously, she’s funny without being snarky or mean, and she seems like a genuinely nice person.
I’m not saying you need to cut your hair short and do funky dances in the office, but next time you’re feeling grumpy because you overslept or spilled coffee all over your blouse, ask yourself, “Would I want to hang out with me right now?” If the answer is no, chances are that your co-workers are feeling the same way.
Step 3: Take Initiative
Once your co-workers have gotten to know you in the office, don’t be afraid to kick your relationships up a notch. Invite them to check out a new restaurant during lunch or celebrate an early Cinco de Mayo with happy hour margaritas. Office book clubs, too, are great for workplace bonding—what could be more fun than spending an hour every month debating which of your co-workers would win a real-life Hunger Games?
If you’re nervous about making the transition from work friends to real-life friends, you might want to try a more subtle approach. The next time one of your co-workers mentions that she wants to see a new movie or do some shopping after work, casually suggest that you go together. If she seems enthusiastic and offers to set a time and place to meet, you’ll know that you’ve found a true after-work buddy.
Step 4: Remember, it’s Just a Job
So, what if you’ve tried everything above (even the Ellen dance moves) and you still aren’t jiving with your office mates? That’s okay. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, finding friends at work just isn’t in the cards. It might take time, or your co-workers might be too cliquish, too socially awkward, or just too busy to invest any energy in building friendships.
Mentally give yourself the “It’s not me, it’s you,” pep talk and remember that while having a work BFF can be awesome, it’s paying the bills and advancing your career that really counts. Get your work done during work, and then spend your free time doing other things you enjoy or catching up with all of your other fabulous friends. Use your lunch hour to get some exercise, run errands, or have a one-woman picnic at the nearest park. Need some happy hour buddies? Snag some girlfriends who work at offices nearby.
Most importantly, keep a smile on your face, and don’t give up hope—you never know when something will spark a common interest or newfound friendship.