Chances are if you're starting a new job you probably want to make a good impression on your new coworkers. Research shows you're right to want to build these bonds. Stronger coworker relationships can make for a happier, more productive workplace. Also, it's just more fun to work where you enjoy the people you work with.
"Building your relationships is going to make your workplace a better place to be on a daily basis," says Ryan Kahn, a nationally recognized career coach and founder of The Hired Group, star of MTV's "Hired" and author of "How To Get Hired" and "Hired! The Guide for the Recent Grad." "At the end of the day people want to work with people they like working with. You're spending 50 or 60 hours a week in a job. Nobody wants to spend that time with people who are miserable."
Having a good bond with your coworkers can also pay off later on as you move up in the company or if you're looking for new opportunities. "A network is net worth," says Kahn. The more relationships you have the more value it can bring for you. Indeed, one recent study shows that some 85 percent of critical positions are actually filled through networking.
With this in mind, it's important to start off on a positive note when getting to know the people in your office. To do this successfully you've got to know what to ask—and what not to ask—to get people to open up.
Questions about careers provide a safe starting point. How did you get your start in the business? What's the project you're most proud of? "They're good safe questions," says Kahn. "You're not being too nosy or too personal and it gives them the opportunity to tell their story the way they want to. It also give you information to use as an angle to get to know them even better."
Some other options include: How long have you been here? What do you like about the company? Have you always been in your current career?, says Jean Baur, a speaker, author and career coach.
"Always stay away from things that would be illegal in a job interview: age, marital status, sexual preference, politics, religion," she says.
Getting to know your colleagues isn't just about asking questions, it's also about taking cues, says Baur. Focus on the personality and needs of your coworker. Does he or she seem introverted? If so, don't pepper him with questions. "If you're talking to an extrovert it may be okay to go a mile a minute," says Baur. But with someone more introverted you want to talk more slowly and not spring questions on them.
Also aim to be inclusive in your conversations. Don't spend the entire lunch hour talking about dogs when one of your coworkers has no pets.
If your ultimate goal is to build bonds and get people to like you, Kahn says there's another fail-safe strategy you need to employ: let them do the talking. "When building relationships, make it all about them. Don't make it about yourself at all," he says.
Studies show that people like to talk about themselves and on average spend 60 percent of conversations talking about themselves. In fact, talking about themselves may actually activate the reward centers in their brains.
"Psychology tells us that when we allow someone to tell us their life story it makes them like us more," says Kahn. It may seem counterintuitive, but it works. "Let them tell their story." Ask how they got to where they are, what the biggest milestones in their career have been. Sit back and listen and truly be engaged, he says. This strategy works particularly well with higher-ups in many workplaces. "They're accomplished a lot, they've probably done a lot, which is why they are a vice president or president. So they have a lot to talk about," says Kahn. "Give them the floor."
Resist the urge to jump in with your own story when they bring up a common area of interest. "If you say, 'Oh, I did that too,' it takes the fire away from their story," he says. Instead, focus on being engaged with what they're talking about, and show it by repeating what they say. It's a simple strategy that makes them know you're paying attention. Typically it's best to wait to start talking about yourself until you're asked to.
The time you invest in others can pay off long-term. "Relationships give you opportunities to bring in new business, new clients and work on new job avenues," says Kahn. These make for some pretty good reasons to take the time to ask the right questions.