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Six workplace tips for the socially challenged

Are you the type of person who hates to be interrupted at work with "good mornings" and other niceties? Do you routinely avoid the break room or eat lunch at your desk? Do your co-workers hang out socially, but rarely invite you for an after-work drink?

While you may think of yourself as an introvert, your co-workers may be interpreting your communication cues quite differently. They may feel that you're impolite, snobby, or antisocial.

So often with people, simple interactions and misunderstandings may lead to negative feelings and poor workplace relationships. Here are a few tips that will make a big difference in the way you interact at work – and how others respond to you.

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Mind your moods.

Everyone has bad moods; what differentiates adults from children is our ability to exercise impulse control and articulate how we feel. When you grumble, stew, or frown, everyone around you has to walk on eggshells for fear that you're going to blow. You would hate being around someone like that, so manage your moodiness. Anger has no place at work.

Work on timing.

An insensitive person is someone who's clueless about how his or her behaviour affects others. Try to be aware of what's going on with the person you're talking to. If she seems busy, distracted, or upset, ask if this is a good time to talk. Even if you think what you have to say is important, forcing her to listen on your terms won't get your message across effectively.

Smell good and look good.

If co-workers avoid you, there may be a good reason. You may have bad breath or body odour. Even if you showered today, you may still have a noticeable odour if you're wearing unwashed clothes. Remember that we can't smell ourselves very well. Good grooming and good hygiene make a good impression. Poor personal-care habits tend to alienate others.

Resolve problems directly.

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Whenever possible, deal directly with the person with whom you're having a conflict. Approach the co-worker respectfully and in private. Use specific examples so your co-worker understands your concerns. Tell him you'd like to reach an agreement, and ask for his help in doing so. Really try not to go above a coworker's head without trying to work it out with him first.

Accept constructive criticism.

When a co-worker or supervisor offers a suggestion about how you might do something differently, don't snap or get defensive. Keep quiet, take a breath, and try to really listen to what she's saying. Use it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and own up to your mistakes.

Nonverbal communication is key.

You send lots of messages to others through your tone, volume, expression, and body language – not just your words. Do you look interested when others speak, or distracted and impatient? When you speak, do you give others their personal space or lean into theirs and speak too loud? Pay attention when people make comments such as, "You look angry," or "You seem stressed out." This is most likely your nonverbal communication speaking.

If you find that people at work avoid you, it's time to look in the mirror. How do you interact with others on a daily basis? Are you easy or difficult to work with? Is it your way or the highway? Try to imagine what it would be like working with you, and then make a few small changes in your communication style. Then watch how quickly your workplace relationships improve.

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Christina Steinorth is a psychotherapist and a relationship expert. Her new book is Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships (Hunter House, 2013). Learn more at

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