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I’m shy… How can I be accepted at work?

Dear Office-Politics,

My problem is: I’m new in this HR firm – working as a front-desk officer – and I don’t know how to behave in order to be accepted, liked, respected and noticed.

I’m pretty shy and reserved, usually just doing my job and not spending much time in socializing. I always answer “yes” to all my colleagues requirements and therefore I receive progressively more work to do – which reduces the time for socializing. I’m alone most of the day because my colleagues work on another floor of the building – they usually pass-by just for a few minutes per day. Most of the work-related discussions are on the phone/e-mail. I cannot go to lunch with them – I have a different lunch schedule.

My aim is to be included in the group (I want them to see me as a valuable co-worker and even a friend) because I want to remain in this firm and be promoted as fast as possible. What kind of discussions should I initiate, what kind of stories to tell, what kind of questions to ask? My colleagues are all young and they have diverse backgrounds, and they seem pretty friendly and open. The problem is that I’m scared that if I spend time in story-telling somebody might consider that I’m not doing my job. So I play the overly-conscious role, and colleagues always find me busy, agitated and multi-tasking.

Thanks again.

Shy not aloof


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Shy not aloof,

We put your goals under the three “ethical politics” skill sets of (1) Know the Corporate Buzz, (2) Essential Networking, and (3) Balanced Self-Promotion in order to gain influence, make an impact, and move ahead in your career and have job satisfaction.

You wisely want to create a strong, positive “buzz” or reputation, but don’t get trapped into tunnel vision perspective as the only way of doing this as being “story telling” or even small-talking.

Schmoozing at informal gatherings is only one way
While “schmoozing” at informal gatherings like lunch is one way to forge relationships you seek, it’s not the only way. In fact, some types of people are less people-oriented and might even react negatively to stories, jokes and similar cliché’ paths to joining the inner circle. Many personality styles such as the Driver and Analytic styles are more responsive to more task oriented ways of connecting so don’t feel pressured to become tomorrow’s most populist stand-up comedienne. And even if you do determine you’re with an expressive or amiable type who likes such tactics, it sounds like it goes against the grain of your personality and could feed a perception that you’re goofing off. Yet, the pendulum need NOT swing to the other extreme of being all work and no play, an uptight workaholic as you describe.

Consider quiet thoughtful gestures
Finding middle ground means creating connections that show your desire to add value, helpfulness, and positive regard for others. Examples are sending someone an article that relates to something you know they are working on, finding out people’s birthday’s and being the one that buys the card everyone signs and word gets around it was your initiation, organizing an after-work activity like a softball game, show up before work to visit a new contact’s workspace rather than depend upon lunches you cannot do, sponsoring a conference of an HR association such as SHRM (Society or Human Resource Management) or HRPP (Human Resources Planning Society) at your facility, etc. See how you can start thinking out of the box and find creative ways to establish relationships, demonstrate knowledge about another’s function, and reveal spark and going the extra mile?

Dialogue not monologue
While we’re at it, let’s “reframe” your slightly narrow definition of interacting to transcend story telling. Instead, consider the goal to make a connection and communicate –– which too many people define as one-way. In fact, more lasting impressions occur when you stress a two-way process, so spend your interaction time asking and truly exploring the other’s job, ideas, current projects so you show interest and they feel involved with you.

If you’re hung up on story telling, tell the other you’re gathering stories to assemble in a workplace storytelling book to leave at the front reception area for clients to browse while they are waiting and you’d like to include their anecdotes. Now they have fun, they feel important, you appear just as people oriented, the firm enjoys a new project and “face to the customer,” etc. Can you see the thread throughout our response? It says YES to making an impact while creating positive perceptions about your relationship capability and competence, but it says NO to pretending to be someone you are not.

Finally, see if you can find a fine little book from 1994 called Contact: The First Four Minutes (Leonard and Natalie Zunin), as well as a 1996 one, People Styles at Work: Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better (Robert H. Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton).

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

  1. One Answer to “I’m shy… How can I be accepted at work?”

  2. FEEDBACK from Shy not aloof

    I want to sincerely thank you for your reply.

    I was impressed by being answered in such a serious, dedicated manner!

    You definitely opened new perspectives for me. For example, it is a great idea asking people about their work as a way to win their sympathy – I am a good listener, but until now I never thought I could put this to work for me (!) – I just did it with the only purpose of helping others.

    Also, I will see if I can use some quiet thoughtful gestures from time to time.

    Your answer was great and sufficient to get me going.

    The funny thing is that I have just been promoted to Personal Assistant to the General Manager – as my former direct boss is an Analytic style and liked the work I have done. From this new position, office politics will change. I’ll have to face the challenge of having some authority over some people that still don’t know me… It won’t be an easy task, considering the fact that I dislike conflicts and I am not good at convincing people to do what I say. I went from the lowest position in the company to one of the highest positions. No problem with the bosses, but how to deal with former mates? They will fold a little to the new situation, but we’ll all have to do the transition from them giving me tasks to me giving them tasks.

    Well, office politics is not a simple thing!

    I wish you all the best!

    By Letter-writer: Shy not aloof on Oct 25, 2007

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