Adapting: 9.5 Ways to Get Over the Cold Shoulder

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By Pankaj Tripathi

In times gone by, when guests would overstay their welcome, the hosts would feed them the worst part of the animal, ‘the cold shoulder’. Times have changed, but we still get the cold shoulder in a number of situations. It is specially reserved for people we don’t like, don’t get along with or simply don’t know. (People often fear that which they don’t know. This reaction is called xenophobia.)

As an immigrant, you may encounter this attitude when you join a new workplace, school, special interest group, social network or community organization. When you are trying to get accepted and no one opens up, you may feel lonely, confused, lost and dejected.

Instead of calling it quits, you can take the initiative. Here are 9.5 things you can do to get over the cold shoulder.

1) Make the first move: Don’t wait for someone to invite you. Jump right in. We often wait to be invited in, and when that doesn’t happen we assume that we are being given the cold shoulder. That may not be the case. Pick up the courage, walk up to the people playing baseball in your neighborhood park, introduce yourself with confidence. Tell them that you have never played the game, and would like to give it a shot. See what happens. People love it when someone wants to try what they are doing.

2) Be curious and ready to learn: Curiosity takes you places. Ask questions but don’t be nosy. People in Canada tend to respect your privacy and expect the same from you. In every group there are individuals who are happy to share their knowledge, skills and experiences. Identify and connect with them. It all starts with a simple question, “Please, could you help me with this? I can’t seem to get my head around this.” Whenever some teaches you or shares something with you, a loud and clear ‘thank you’, a warm smile and a firm handshake do help take the relationship to the next level.

3) Be sensitive and caring: Canadians have reputations as caring and sensitive people. ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thank you’ are two of the most common phrases you will hear across this country. Simple things like sending a thank you note to an interviewer who didn’t select you, or bringing in a colleague’s favorite latte to say thanks for something he or she did for you, will help you win friends and make relationships that last a lifetime.

4) Find what you like: A number of immigrants feel the cold shoulder because of the culture shock. All of a sudden, a number of things from food, clothes, music and language to values are completely different. Look closely. Canadians are very open to other cultures and ideas, from sushi, dosa, pizza and reggae to tai chi, yoga, acupuncture and shawarma. Be open to influences from other cultures and appreciate the Canadian way of things (yes it is there, subtle and very distinct). Find out what you like about these things, and use them to connect with your colleagues, neighbors and friends.

5) Single out one person who is a bit more open than others: There is always a friendly face, a smile slightly warmer than the others, someone a bit more helpful than the rest. Connect with him or her. They will help you open up to the others. Don’t be manipulative. Instead be honest, open and kind – the way you found your first friends at school, back home. One strong friendship leads to another and before you know it, you are at the heart of the group, community and society.

6) Seek out clubs, hobby groups, community events, parties and celebrations: Join the running club or yoga group at work. Group activities help you break into the network, community and society. Shared interests help get over the ‘unfamiliarity’ and ‘stranger’ factors. From volunteering at the local charity, political rally or parade to joining a cycling or bird watching group, these activities can help you unearth opportunities and feel welcome and accepted.

7) Locate the “hot spots”: In offices and schools, water coolers, photocopy machines and cafeterias tend to be places where people let their guard down. They are more open to small talk, because they are engaged in activities that do not require much concentration. These are good places to start a conversation, as long as you don’t wait by that water cooler, or worse still, stalk someone you have been dying to talk to.

8) Offer assistance, even if you have to go the extra mile: An extra pair of hands is always welcome, whether people are organizing a pizza party at work, potluck at the kids’ school or a neighborhood parade. Help with whatever you are good at, and whatever needs to be done. People will usually recognize, value and reciprocate your gesture.

9) Don’t get discouraged if your initial efforts at breaking the ice may not work: Give it some time. Try another approach. Do not take it too personally. People may be a bit aloof for a number of reasons – a bad day at work, a change in leadership or simply a lack of “chemistry”. Be patient, persistent and understanding.

9.5) Smile: a genuine smile lights up a room, warms up hearts and wins friends. For a new immigrant, the times may be tough, but you can still smile. A smile makes you relaxed and helps people connect with you. It says, you are open ‘for business’.

Now stop grinning, everyone is looking at you.

Just kidding, keep smiling. It helps you get over the cold shoulder, if you ever have to face it.

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