Dear Nicole: How do I break the ice with an awkward colleague?

Dear Nicole

A new associate of mine is very awkward to talk to. I’m friendly and chatty, but can be subdued when the occasion warrants. In other words, I can usually carry on a conversation with anyone.

Not this person. I can’t describe him as nervous, unfriendly or morose, just awkward. I’ve tried asking non personal questions, smiling and nodding and making eye contact. I don’t have to spend a lot of time with this person but it is an association that requires two to four hours collaboration a month. I’m not looking for chumminess, but would like to feel comfortable during our times together.

Others in this group appear to feel the same way so it seems that I’m not alone in my discomfort. Your thoughts?

Tongue tied


Some people are just socially awkward. And we all add to the awkwardness by acting differently (more on edge, well behaved, etc.) around these people. Sounds like this guy is new to your workplace which might make him feel extra awkward, especially if you and your colleagues already seem to know each other really well.

As someone who works in the Internet industry, I deal with some awkward people myself. It’s best to either:

1) deal with them over email/chat (avoid face to face)

2) when face to face is unavoidable, keep things brief.

Also before you go into a meeting with this person, be really relaxed yourself (a quick meditation or walk around the block).

Your energy may rub off on him. It sounds like this behavior doesn’t come from a dislike of you or anything deeply personal, so just smile and act normal and tell all group members to do the same. He may follow suit eventually. But you’ll have to get comfortable with the fact some people relate differently and that’s ok.


Dear Nicole

My wife and I just retired to the area and love it. She is from Western Maine and I grew up in Wisconsin. I’ve noticed something that I find odd. Oftentimes in conversation a local will say to me “well, you’re from away” as if to explain my comment or question. While they never say it in a mean way, or condescendingly, it does make me feel a little like day old bread. Am I overreacting?

Retired to Maine


Tina Fey in her book “Bossypants” says what I feel about this better than I could: “Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically… Or they won’t.

Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.” Keep having your opinions, Retired. Nothing wrong with injecting a little diversity into any gene pool. If someone wants to be dismissive of your opinion because your mother didn’t birth you over this state line, that’s their issue not yours. Say your thing, don’t care if they like it. I assure you plenty of us appreciate diverse opinions and will say something if we agree with you and are in mixed company.

Nicole Ouellette

Nicole Ouellette

When Nicole isn't giving advice she's completely unqualified to give, she runs an Internet marketing company in Bar Harbor, where she lives with her husband Derrick and their short dog Gidget. She loves young adult novels, cooking and talking French to anyone who'll talk back. [email protected]
Nicole Ouellette

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