I got my first corporate job when I in my last year in college. I was working part time in the theater making $10/hour when a friend of mine told me about this sweet gig that she had working as a temp for a huge corporation called American President Lines paying $20/hour.
Obviously, I was pretty psyched about the chance to double my part-time income.
I was also a little nervous.
Both of my parents are entrepreneurs and I never had any exposure to corporate life. I don’t think I’d ever even been in an office building!
Despite my nerves, I called the number and got an interview, followed by a temp job in the “investor relations” department. I had no idea what “investor relations” meant!
Walking into that 24 story building in downtown Oakland on that first day was literally like walking into a foreign land.
And walking through the maze of cubicles (yes, I said, “Cubicles? People work in these little boxes?!”), I saw all these people who had two arms and two legs and a head. They looked like me, but we seemed to be worlds apart.
In the beginning, I had trouble finding connections with my co-workers.
There are times when you feel different, separate or unconnected to the people you work with. Even if it’s the difference in your titles.
How to connect
“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.” ― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
Good advice that stands the test of time!
Here are some questions you can ask to help you put aside your fear of being different and the assumption that you have nothing in common.
- We all do things outside of work. What do you like to do for fun? What kinds of books do you read? How do you spend your free time? What were your hobbies before you had kids? What’s on your bucket list? What was the most exciting thing you ever did? What would you do for one day if you had it totally free for just yourself? If you could go back in time to meet one person, who would it be? What would you do if you won the lottery?
- We all travel. Where is your favorite vacation spot? What was your best vacation ever? Worst vacation ever? Where do you want to go next? What travel spots are on your bucket list? Where was the best vacation you went on as a child? What was your very first vacation? What do you like/dislike about work travel? What’s your favorite travel tip?
- We all have friends and family. Where did you grow up? Where did your parents grow up? How has this influenced you? Do you have siblings? Where do they live? Are you close? Did your parents let you stay up late or watch tv when you were a kid? What was your first R rated movie? Would you raise your kids the same way you were raised? Who is the friend/family member you admire most?
Adjust these to your comfort level with the people you work with, but the idea is to ask questions to get to know your coworkers and find things you have in common.
The bottom line
Studies show that you’re more likely to be happy at work when you find a way to connect on a personal level with your peers.
I’ll never forget that moment when I realized my coworkers at APL were human, just like me.
I was walking down the hall and noticed an instrument case in a coworker’s office. Turns out that he played in a band and was performing close by after work. Until that moment I hadn’t realized that people had whole other lives outside of work!
You can find connections and build relationships with people who are not like you. Try it out and let me know how it goes.
P.S. Recently I wrote about how turning on your video on your Zoom or WebEx calls can help you connect more authentically. The people who start doing this say things like,“When we get on video, it really breaks the ice. Even with clients and co-workers who are much higher up than me, once we see each other, I can see that they are just like me.”