@work - Enjoy lunch with your colleagues?

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In case you still don’t know, to enjoy lunch with your colleagues at work, you need to be a golfer, a hockey fan, and/or know the name of all the contestants in the “reality” show Survival.

Of course I am kidding. But believe me, lunch time at work for those who is relatively new to the country , like me , is often not as relaxed as it should be. I THOUGHT I had little common interests with my colleagues, and I THOUGHT I am more comfortable to be a listener than a talker. This is a dangerous trap and I almost got caught.

The one who saved me is my colleague Eugene, who came to Canada three years ago from Russia. Upon introduction the girls in our little group told me Eugene is the funniest guy in our team. He has a joke for every occasion, and it is always relevant. Around Xmas he will tell a Xmas joke. Talking about education of kids he has a school joke. And he talks about himself, like his wife is studying in another city, what they do over the weekend when she came back, small things like that. People get to know Eugene is a fun guy. He won’t be offended if you mess around with him a little bit. And they ask him about how this and that was going because they know something about his life.

My finding is although my Canadian colleagues don’t have most of the challenges I have as a recent immigrant, they have their own pressure. They want to relax and entertain each other at lunch. A silent guest is just not an appetizing thing. Besides, North Americans are individualists. If you don’t talk, over time people think it’s your choice. You are an introvert guy and prefer to be left alone.

Now the final issue – language. No matter what you think about your language skills, I am confident if you passed that job interview, you oral English is enough to handle the lunch talk. I mean come on, this is not a one-on-one intimate talk, you just tell you story of the day and make some comments at times you can. How many stories you made for that job interview : -)

Eugene’s English today is a little better than mine. If three years ago (imagine his English then) he chose to keep to himself at lunch time, he would soon begin to find it embarrassing to sit with colleagues at lunch, then he would gravitate to lunching with a bunch of Russia engineers, who brought their lunch box of ethnic food, and talk in Russia. Yeah they would be more at ease, but they would also complain they were not in the loop on what’s going on in the company, they were the last one to know the imminent restructuring and lose out on a lot of opportunities in the company. Eugene didn’t fall into that trap. He made it because he has an open, positive personality, he is smart and he is fun.

Tell me who on Rolia isn’t? See it’s a matter of choice.

Eugene doesn’t golf. He doesn’t watch Survivor or even West Wing. He is from Russia but he is not so hot on hockey. There are tons of interesting topics one can bring up at lunch time. Kids, car, movie, relationship, health, hobbies… I probably need to do some thinking about my story of the day on my drive to work, but the reward in the social life is well worth it, and it is good for my health. No kidding.
The only trick is to make your story a little interesting. Once I conquered the lunch table, I found myself start to stop by other's cube, enjoy the small talk in the elevator and hallway with the ones I know. I am no longer a mere "Hi-er" on these occasions.

A finally tip: try to remember the name of your colleagues’ kids and spouse. I know this is difficult, but they remember mine. It shows you care about them, and they will do the same in turn.

p.s. The reason I wrote this is to learn from you, not advise you, how to improve our interpersonal skills at work. Let’s share our experience, what works and what doesn’t, so that all of us can benefit from it. If it goes well, we will do other topics like Feedback, Managing up, Network.
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2001-6-3 -04:00
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