My Coworkers Won’t Smile Back

I started a new job eager and attempted to smile and greet everyone. These greetings were usually not returned and, a year later, they are accompanied by dirty looks and eye rolls.

I’ve also overheard co-workers gossip and complain about how ineffective I am. I did check in to see if there were any issues with my performance after overhearing one of these conversations and was assured I was performing above expectations. However, the evil looks and ignored greetings continue.

Obviously, I don’t feel very comfortable or secure. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with a situation or ways to protect my position?

There are two distinct possibilities here: One is that you are the problem and the other is that they are the problem. It’s impossible for me to tell from here which one it is.

Now, to be clear, they shouldn’t be rude even if you are the problem, but it’s actually easier to fix if it’s you.

What do I mean by it might be you? You started a new job, and you were happy and eager and possibly you invaded their personal space before you should have. Did you try to be instant friends? Do you have a slightly annoying personality? Have you run into this problem before?

Sometimes people are socially awkward and don’t realize it. If there’s any possibility that this could be the case, go to your boss and say, “I know I can struggle with relationships, and I’ve noticed that I don’t seem to be fitting in here. Can you help me figure out what I can change?”

The advantage of asking this question is that you’re not blaming anyone else–even if they do deserve the blame (which they do, because even if you’re annoying they shouldn’t be rude back). You’re asking for help changing you, not changing them. If your manager is a good one, she’ll tell you ways in which you’re overstepping boundaries, not picking up on the vibe of the office, and other things that you could change to make the place better.

Now, if you’ve never had problems with relationships before, then it’s probably not that you’ve done anything wrong. Your new coworkers could not like you for a number of reasons not related to you:

  • You got the position one of them wanted, and the rest are taking her side.
  • You’re making more money than the rest of them.
  • You are doing a better job, and there has been a culture of slacking, and you’re ruining that for them.
  • You’re a different race/gender/religion/etc than they are, and they are just general horrible people.
  • The person who had your position previously was part of their group, and she got fired so they blame you, even though you had absolutely nothing to do with the firing.

Sometimes adults act like junior high school kids, and we all know how unpleasant that can be. If you think this is the case, then you can do two things. The first is to pick the least unfriendly of the bunch and approach her as follows: “Jane, can I talk to you for a minute? I’ve noticed that I don’t really fit in here, and I can’t figure out why. Could you possibly help me understand what I can do to fit in better?”

Now, if Jane is a nice enough person, she’ll recognize this as the calling out that it is. Note, again you’re not blaming them, you’re putting the focus on yourself. Why, when you’re not the problem? Because this isn’t about being right; it’s about fixing things. You want to fix things, not be right.

Jane may tell you that it’s nothing, and you’re fine, but you should see her softening. People can easily get stuck in the rut of being mean and cliquish, but when it’s brought to their attention, they can see they are being silly and stop.

If you can’t identify someone who might be rational, it’s time to go to your manager and ask a slightly different question. Instead of asking her what you can do, ask her what’s going on. “I’ve noticed that, even after a year, people don’t like me. It started right at the beginning, so I’m pretty sure it’s not something I’ve done. Is there some background that I’m missing?”

Hopefully, your boss will open up and explain what is going on. Then ask her for help in tackling the problem. It’s really up to the boss to pull her employees into line. Hopefully,this will prompt her to do it.

Pay attention to how people behave. Don’t go outside their norms. Keep your head down, and with your manager, you can get this problem solved.


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3 thoughts on “My Coworkers Won’t Smile Back

  1. This is a tough one. They should of course be polite but they don’t have to be friends with you. You know your boss best. Will she help you figure this out or will her view of you be lower because you are bothering her? Often there is a coworker (another dept?), not part of the clique, who knows enough of the story that you can make a decision whether to pursue things. I’ve had coworkers I would never ever want to be friends with but I can’t tell if this is mean girls or you are an annoying coworker. I hope you can find a way to work peacefully there.

  2. This article is such good advice – with defined actions to take. Thanks for writing this.

  3. I’m a woman and I hate female coworkers because they’re nasty and remind me of the mean girls I knew in high school. I only get along with men, at least they don’t gossip or talk trash behind your back like women do.

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