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posted: 8/25/2019 6:00 AM

It takes time to make friends at a new job -- but a candy bowl is a good start

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  • Looking to make friends at work? Putting out a sweet vibe can draw in-kind responses.

    Looking to make friends at work? Putting out a sweet vibe can draw in-kind responses.
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Q: I recently transitioned from a large agency to a smaller, quieter agency that is much better for me in almost every way, except the social environment. At my last job, I had a few close friends I could joke around with and confide in. Having that social outlet made it more palatable for me to leave my kids to go to work each day. The culture at my new job is friendly but more formal, and while that's a good thing, it's also leaving me kind of lonely. Between working full time and having two little kids, there's not a lot of time outside of work to make friends. Besides just focusing hard on work, do you have any advice for making the workday feel less isolating?

A: Short-term suggestion: candy bowl (including sugar-free options) on your desk. Putting out a sweet vibe can draw in-kind responses.

For the long term, some perspective: How long did it take to make those close friends at your last job? Usually, finding "our people" at work takes weeks and months of daily proximity and small talk, borrowing staplers and awkwardly sipping sodas at work-sponsored social events. The good news is, even when you turn in your employer-provided badge and laptop, you don't have to leave the friendships behind. Assuming you haven't moved too far away from your former colleagues, can you arrange occasional meetups for coffee, lunch or happy hour to keep those connections alive?

And then, of course, your nonwork world is dominated by those small creatures at home. Have faith that that, too, will change. As they grow, they'll expand your social sphere to other friendship-starved parents in need of carpool partners and playdate buddies.

While I'm on the subject, can we parents all agree to ease up on ourselves and each other about "[leaving the] kids to go to work?" Yes, it would be nice if new parents had the option of spending more paid time bonding with their infants before being rushed back onto the hamster wheel. But for many of us, paid work is essential to our well-being at all levels of Maslow's pyramid.

(Aside to Reader 1: If that's not true of your job, and you genuinely think your family is suffering for it, it may be time to step back and ask yourself whether this new job, despite being "better" for you, is still not quite good enough.)

Q: We recently hired a new attorney who is constantly putting herself down, calling herself stupid and apologizing for asking questions. I'm a direct person, but I don't want to just say, "Stop apologizing and being so tentative," because the last thing she needs is more criticism. How can I best help her?

A: What I want to know is, how did law school not eat her alive?

I recently discussed ways to respond to this kind of reflexive cringing and self-deprecation, but I'm revisiting the topic because I want to mention a sleight-of-word technique I've seen used (and begun using on myself) to good effect: repeating her statements, but flipping the negative to positive.

She: "I'm so stupid for asking this basic question ..."

You: "I wish more people were humble enough to ask that essential question."

Of course, you're not obligated to take on that degree of emotional labor. But if you're not in a position to give direct feedback, this kind of subtle coaching might inspire her to try detoxing her own inner narrative.