Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I’m new to my organization and want to get to know my coworkers, but I don’t want to be intrusive. How can I break the ice?
A: It’s great that you’re taking the initiative to get to know your new colleagues, rather than wait for others to approach you or for someone to schedule a new-employee happy hour. It’s certainly more fun to go to work with people we’re comfortable with, and I believe we’re more productive when we know each other as people, not just coworkers.
When you meet your colleagues, whether you are formally introduced by your manager or run into someone in the break room, greet them with a firm handshake and an easy smile. Be ready to share a detail or two about where you worked before or what job you were hired to do so that the dialogue starts then and there.
At the beginning, small talk can make a difference. Start by asking a coworker about weekend plans or whether he or she watched the big game the night before. Topics like the weather or traffic are always good conversation starters.
Ask good questions when you meet new people. Inquire about what their job involves or what they like about working at the organization, but don’t bombard them. Ask one or two open-ended questions that encourage them to share. Listen carefully to their answers and respond in a way that shows your interest. Good listeners usually make friends easily.
Offering to help a coworker with a project can be a great way to integrate yourself into the organization.
When you’re invited to lunch or happy hour, go and actively participate in the conversation, but avoid getting pulled in to office gossip. You want to be able to work productively with all your new coworkers, so be careful not to inadvertently be drawn into cliques or personality conflicts.
Offering to help a coworker with a project can be a great way to integrate yourself into the organization. When you’re working side by side with someone else, you’ll get to know each other on some level, and you will have made an ally.
Finally—and this may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many people don’t do it—be sure to greet your coworkers every morning. Take the three seconds necessary to say good morning with a smile, and odds are, you’re going to be well received.