It’s Friday morning and you’re headed to work. Sipping your coffee, you ride up the elevator and stroll into the office. The receptionist smiles and nods “good morning,” and you half-smile back as you look away and walk past.
Making your way to your desk, you pass a handful of female colleagues congregated in the hall. Kim from HR got engaged last night and there’s a flurry of excitement. “OMG the ring’s gorgeous, Kim!” “I’m so jealous!” “I can’t wait to see all your wedding ideas!”
You don’t even break your stride. Every past attempt at connection has ended with you alone without a clue why. Shyness isn’t your problem, yet you’re perceived as aloof, rude, and boring. That’s not who you are, but you have no clue how you got there or how to change it.
“Drinks are on me tonight, ladies!” the bride-to-be shouts as a chorus of cheers erupts. You slip into your cubicle and plug in your headphones – why bother listening? You won’t be invited. Sure, it hurts your feelings, but that’s the way it’s always been. Why would it change now?
Sadly, this scene is playing out daily in every office and workspace in the country. As a woman who doesn’t fit the “Chatty Cathy” mold, you feel alone, left out, and have no clue how to connect with other women in a way that feels genuine to you. Because you’re less outgoing, other women seem to write you off. When it comes to female friendships, your lifetime of effort seems to be in vain.
I know, it’s scary. You’re miserable and lonely, but figuring out the “why” and “how” of a new life seems overwhelming and impossible. While it’s often easier to wear the assigned “aloofness” as a badge than to put in the work to change, the toxic bubble you’re living in will slowly kill you. Don’t wait until you wake up one day, middle-aged, with no friends or life outside your tiny cubicle.
Connecting with other women is crucial not only to your personal life but to your career success as well. Being a woman in the business world is tough, but you don’t have to go it alone. The support between female professionals is invaluable when it comes to high quality networking, career advancement, and leading healthier, happier lives. Investing in these relationships also shows you value community, helping you be seen as a team player (aka promotion material).
The women around you are an immensely rich pool of support, knowledge and connection. By not learning the language of female connection, you’re cutting yourself off from one of the most valuable resources for success. As an ambitious woman striving to achieve your dream career, this simply isn’t an option. But where do you begin?
There are unspoken social conventions that govern relationships between women, and if you struggle to understand that framework, making female friends can seem like a monumental task. However, once you learn the patterns, genuine connection and relationships are completely within reach.
Feeling overwhelmed? Take heart – if you make a commitment to learn and practice these concepts, genuine connection isn’t as far off or as difficult as you think. I’m a woman, I’m your friend, and I’m here to help. See? Look how far you’ve come already! Let’s get started.
Genuinely Connecting With The Women Around You
#1. Start With Yourself
The Hard Truth: If you have problems connecting with other women, the problem almost always lies with you, not with them. Your mindset and attitude have a massive influence on your relationships – a warped perspective wreaks havoc, while a healthy internal foundation paves the way for relational success.
Before you can continue down the path towards genuine connection with the women around you, you must:
- Check your attitude – do you have a negative competition mindset? “If they win, I lose/If they lose, I win” is a terrible way to view life, and you’ll be miserable until you die. Is your external behavior declaring that you only care about yourself and your needs, or are you demonstrating interest in the lives of others? Are you showing them you value who they are and what they need?
- Consciously choose to build the women around you up instead of just looking out for yourself. Looking out for each other is a key way women show they appreciate, value and respect one another. If you incorporate this concept and genuinely live it out, other women will pick that up and gravitate towards you. By listening, asking thoughtful questions, and having a genuine concern for their wellbeing, you enrich the people around you, and that’s the kind of person others welcome with open arms.
#2. Eye Contact/Smiling
Forget the sexist notion that women must always smile and be pretty – that’s not what this is about. I’m not talking about earning your seat using your femininity, I’m talking about using your eyes and face to create an invitation to connect.
Avoiding eye contact prevents people from being able to get a sense of who you are behind your exterior – it’s a tool women use when they’re trying to decide if someone is trustworthy or not. By refusing them this connection, you give the impression that you’re hiding something. This turns them off.
Women want to have confidence in the people around them, and eye contact is way you can honor that need by opening up. It shows that you value who they are and what they need, not just your own agenda.
In the same way, wearing a blank face indicates to those around you that you’re uninterested or don’t care. No one wants to form a relationship with someone who doesn’t care about them, so this is a huge turn off for women.
Make sure that your facial expressions are matching the tone and subject of the conversation, as well as being appropriate to the words being said at that moment. Showing excitement, empathy, surprise, etc are all ways to show you’re actively listening and engaged in what’s happening. Flashing a welcoming smile at someone as they waltz into work can make someone’s day, and being associated with feelings of happiness and joy will make you someone people seek to be with instead of avoid.
Eye contact and engaged facial expressions are two ways to acknowledge someone’s presence and value. By incorporating them, you’ll make other women feel good about themselves, and feelings of camaraderie will organically follow. These tools may seem simple, but don’t underestimate them. Your face is a powerhouse when it comes to showing others the real you, so use it!
#3. Express interest in others and be open to sharing your life too.
Women build connection by sharing experiences, feelings and opinions, either as they happen or after the fact.
Let’s use the newly engaged Kim from the beginning of this post as an example. Kim has just had an incredible experience (getting engaged). By sharing it with her female colleagues, she’s welcoming them into her world.
Showing them the ring, recreating the events of that night, and inviting everyone out to celebrate are all ways she shows these women she values them. Her actions say, “This life event is special to me, and by sharing it with you, I can make you feel valued and happy too.”
In direct contrast, not engaging when someone shares about life experiences communicates that you don’t care about what she’s saying or about her as a person. You send a hurtful message that she isn’t valued. Do this and women will avoid engaging with you, seeking out women who will build them up instead.
The only person who loses here is you, so consciously choose to engage!
Sharing parts of your life is equally important. Don’t worry if you’re not a chatterbox – even little moments can have massive impact. Maybe you commiserate with Lindsay as she’s going through a breakup, or cheer for Fay after her triumphant victory at her weekend tennis tournament. Did you eat the best pizza of your life last night? Tell everyone! “Ladies, I had the best pizza in the world yesterday, you have to try this place!” Little moments, when shared, bond women together in amazing ways, so don’t be afraid to use them.
#4. Prioritize Face-To-Face
LinkedIn is cool and emailing back and forth is useful, but the foundation of genuine connection is in person. While you need both in your professional life, the “in person” will enrich your online life, but not the other way around.
You can’t afford to hide behind your email signature for the rest of your life. Lacking in-person connection in your career will keep you stagnant, not to mention lonely and isolated. You may “know” your female colleagues, but do you actually know them?
Make a point to come out from behind your desk and sit in the break room, join in on the coffee run, or simply look up and chat with someone as you make copies. Every so often, why not drop off that report in person? Pop your head in and say, “hey, I just grabbed a couple cookies from the break room, want one?”
Face-to-face is personal and it shows you care. Don’t make people come to you – break out of your own box and engage. Women connect faster and on a deeper level when they interact in person, so don’t shy away from the original “face time.”
#5. Commit To Participating
Genuine relationships are forged by repeatedly engaging and spending time together. You can’t pop in once and expect the rest to just magically happen.
In the past, you’ve probably turned down numerous invitations to have lunch with “the girls.” Maybe after-work drinks are popular but you’ve never gone.
Stop doing that! Inviting you is their way of welcoming you in, but your repeated refusals give the message that you don’t value them. This is no way to build relationships. The next time someone invites you along for something, for goodness sake, GO! Participating shows that you care about more than just yourself, and that’s the kind of woman people want to be around.
If you’ve turned down so many invites that people have stopped inviting you, then extend an invitation of your own. “Hey guys, I was thinking of trying that new restaurant on the corner for lunch today, would any of you like to join me?” Be brave and extend a hand. Every woman longs to be welcomed and valued, and an invitation is a way to fulfill that desire. You can do it!
Wrapping It Up
If you’ve been living without a genuine connection to the women around you, now is the time to embrace change. You can’t expect to get different results with the same moves you’ve been using for years.
If you adopt a healthy attitude and mindset and use your behavior to communicate that you value others, you’ll be welcomed with open arms into the immensely valuable community of women in your life. Built on respect, appreciation and valuing each other, these relationships will not only help you achieve your career goals, they’ll fulfill some of the deepest parts of you as a woman.
The days of feeling disconnected can be your past and genuine connection can be your new reality! Open up and be willing to engage, and you’ll become a valuable member of the female community around you.