I'm not well liked by colleagues. And this doesn't happen to me for the first time unfortunately.

I will try to be objective in my description:

  • I have friends and social networks outside of work, so I don't think I completely lack social skills or have a generalised social anxiety. But yes, those networks are mostly international whereas I work mostly with locals.
  • I know I tend to be a bit reserved when meeting new people in work context. I frequently lack the lightness some people possess, especially at the beginning.
  • I've been told both: that I come across as very shy and introverted and that I come across as arrogant and aggressive, by different people. I think it's because I'm a bit reserved. People project things on me.
  • I'm a foreigner in the country I work, normally the only one or one of the few foreigners. I live in Germany.
  • I'm a nerd, love some topics but find small talk boring in the long run. I try to control that however.
  • I'm not a huge party person and wouldn't like to drink too much to be liked.
  • In the past, I had networks in which I was very popular, so it's not like I've always been an outsider. But it doesn't seem to work in the current country and now. I'm not able to forge normal, reliable relationships with Germans here.

I've been told I don't fit it by my bosses. I've also had the feeling I'm not popular - I don't get invited to things and people shut the conversation with me quickly after I start it.

How can I change it?

My goal is to fit in better at least in the eyes of my superiors.

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    I believe this belongs with interpersonal and not at the workplace as this has little to do with working, but building relationships with germans as a foreigner. Oct 4, 2019 at 8:44
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    My current strategy is to try and be a genuinely nice person, who cares about others, doesn't cause a fuss over small things, stands his ground over his beliefs and doesn't start trouble or talk poorly of others behind their back. My view is that if you are a respectable person, over time people will get to know you and respect you. But I'm also a social, outgoing person and a relatively smooth talker so I can't tell how effective my strategy really is.
    – Stun Brick
    Oct 4, 2019 at 8:46
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    @StunBrick it's a good strategy, give no grounds for complaint and be nice to all.
    – Kilisi
    Oct 4, 2019 at 8:55
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    + keep in mind that in Europe the more you go to the North, to the hardest it is to socialize (+the fact that in medium-sized cities, people may not be used to foreigners, and usually people from the countryside are more welcoming). So in Germany, Sweden (I have lived in these 2 countries and have not been able to bind any social link) it's definitely normal to have problems to make friends, in more Latin countries it's easier (France, Spain, Italy).
    – user108322
    Oct 4, 2019 at 10:08

5 Answers 5


It's normal for most foreigners who are not extroverts to face this issue. Don't let it affect your morale. It passes over time eventually.

For the meantime many foreigners make friends and networks or just find support within their own expat or religious communities and never really see a need for more. In any case this is an avenue worth exploring if you're lonely and you should find people with more experience to give you specific advice.

Apart from that, just make yourself pleasant and remember that you are a foreigner, it's not enough to be as good as everyone else. You need to be better, with no visible trace of arrogance over it. Some people will automatically look for reasons not to like you. These may never like you, but don't give them a reason to actively dislike you. So make a proactive effort to be well groomed, always cheerful and willing to help.


A great way to start building bridges with people is by asking them for advice or suggestions. Given your particular situation (being a foreigner), you can even play that to your advantage. For example, on a Friday you can ask some of your colleagues for suggestions on how to spend your time in the weekend. Say you’d like to visit a museum, or go to the movies, or visit a national park, or [add activity you’d enjoy here]. Ask for their suggestions since they’re local and probably know more about the area than you. That alone will open up a connection and might even bring some more interactions your way the following week. On Monday they might ask you about your plans and whether you followed some of their suggestions in the end. Even if that doesn’t happen, you could initiate another conversation thanking them for the suggestions, and giving more details about how you followed them and had a good time. This could even lead to some people inviting you to do something together over the weekend.

If it simply doesn’t work, try to be generally friendly and respectful, but also keep in mind that whatever other people think of you should be none of your business. If you’re not lonely and if you don’t necessarily need more friends, try to be a team player when it comes to work stuff, but do your own thing when outside of the office. Be as introvert as you please and only open up to the people that you feel are really worth it.


Dale Carnegie wrote a book "How to win friends and influence people", which should be the bible to anyone wishing to advance their social skills. It's put out very plainly, simply, and without any fancy techiniques, just a basic understanding of human nature.

Beyond that. Your primary focus should never be on having people like you. It seldom works, and even when it does, you end up losing all respect, which in Germany, is a big thing.

The culture in Germany may be a bit more formal than that which you are used to, so learning a bit more about the cultural differences may help as well.

Read the book, focus on performance and respect, and then accept the fact that some people will simply not like you.

To paraphrase Machiavelli, one should try to be both liked and respected, but if you cannot achieve both, it is better to be respected than liked because people who respect you may come to like you, but people will not suddenly respect you simply because they like you.


First of all. It's work. You don't need to be friends with your colleagues just friendly is more than enough. So try to be friendly, helpful and positive and ofcourse do a good job.

If you have a team that tends to socialize a lot outside of work than that is a little more difficult especially if you are the only foreigner among natives (do you speak any German?). Join if you can occasionally but don't overdo it if what they are doing is not your cup of tea. If they see you make an effort every once in a while that will go a long way (with most people anyhow)

It is a common problem though. Internationals tend to form social bonds with other internationals (or maybe locals only with locals). Language can be a barrier but also lack of common background (same tv shows as a kid for example). Language is something you could potentially work on (if you haven't already) but in the end as I said. If you have a healthy (and this means something different for everyone) social life outsied of work and you can get along with your colleagues at work (and only at work) that can be more than enough.

  • "First of all. It's work. You don't need to be friends with your colleagues just friendly is more than enough. So try to be friendly, helpful and positive and ofcourse do a good job." That's my preferable view too. The problem is, my bosses see it differently. Oct 4, 2019 at 12:22
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    fitting in is not necessarily the same as being friends. Also it could be that your bosses only see that it is not working properly in your team and not being able to fully understand why they say you are not fitting in. In the end: if the team works well your bosses don't care if you are friends or friendly. I do ofcourse get that it is not easy and I wish you good luck.
    – user180146
    Oct 4, 2019 at 13:35

I've been told both: that I come across as very shy and introverted and that I come across as arrogant and aggressive, by different people. I think it's because I'm a bit reserved. People project things on me.

Actually, people do not project anything on you. I have been through this kind of problem before, in my own country, my own city, and occasionally, my own family - this is why / how I know.

Why does this happen, that people see us differently than we think we are? For a few reasons:

  1. They have no idea what we think.
  2. They see us from the outside. We cannot see ourselves from the outside, unless we use a mirror.
  3. Even though on the inside we think we smile, on the outside we might not. and so on...

Quiz: did you ever listen to a recording of your own voice? If not, do it. You might be impressed by the result.

The easiest way to handle the situation is the following:

  • find some colleagues / people who are more willing to chat with you;
  • tell them that you want to improve your behavior, to better adjust to the team / country / whatever;
  • ask them to give feedback to you, about what you actually do and which they do not like;
  • VERY IMPORTANT: as much as possible, they should give this feedback to you exactly when the thing happens, so you actually have a chance to analyze yourself, understand yourself better, and have a better chance to improve.

I had a problem with my voice, occasionally being suddenly too loud - which was understood by the people around me as me becoming aggressive. I needed several months of feedback, until I was able to hear my own voice in the same way it was heard by the other people. After that, I learned how to control it. I am still not perfect, but things actually improved.

I expanded on the story in an answer here.

  • I was given plenty of such feedback before. The problem is, if you get a lot of negative feedback concerning your behavior (tone of voice, way of expressing yourself, way to look) you start to monitor yourself extremely closely. That's not a thing that makes you relaxed in social situations. Not to mention that these things are mostly subjective. If you want to misunderstand someone, you will. Oct 4, 2019 at 12:26
  • You got only a partial image from my answer. The idea is not only to receive the feedback of "go away", but also the exact details which generate that feeling. Also, you need to work on solving / adjusting the issues which are brought to your attention. Sometimes, the best solution is to not socialize, let the people see you being yourself - it is what I did for almost 2 years at my new job in a foreign country. Things started to change only recently, without any real change in my behavior. Probably people just came to understand that I am not dangerous :)
    – virolino
    Oct 4, 2019 at 12:31

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