Relationships can be difficult to navigate in our personal lives, but throw the work factor into the mix, and there’s an extra layer of complication – for several reasons. Developing relationships with people we work with is founded on the same principles as any other, but they’re not on the same level of depth as personal ones; and because of this they can change more quickly, and be influenced more easily and by more factors. When a work relationship you thought was good suddenly seems to go wrong, it can be a real cause of stress.
In our personal life, we have more choice about the people we give our time to – at work, we don’t have the same degree of choice at all, and so we’re more likely to have a mix of people we feel we get on well with, and others we don’t. It’s our nature to categorise each of our relationships as “good” or “bad”, and (unconsciously) we usually have little expectation that they will change. Unfortunately, this means we’re likely to take the good ones for granted, and we’re unlikely to work on the difficult ones. This can lead to problems where we weren’t expecting them – and it can also mean that we don’t take chances to forge better relationships with others.
Our impression of whether a relationship is good or bad is created by small interactions with someone, or “micro-moments” – conversations, responses, behaviours, perceived attitudes – lots of little things that build up over time to form our opinions, or which can even be based on one single interaction. These micro-moments have so much power, and a simple misunderstanding can form your underlying attitude to a colleague.
A tale of two micro-moments
Here’s an example – after the first meeting of a new project, someone sends round a summary with actions, asking everyone to agree them. Most people reply, but two don’t. One of them has a “good” relationship with the sender, so she brings it up while they’re both filling up their water bottles. It turns out this person simply forgot to respond, but is completely happy with them. The other isn’t someone the sender feels she can speak to so easily. Their paths don’t cross, and so she assumes he’s just not happy – and instead of approaching him, she waits until the next meeting to point out that he’s the only approval outstanding. He’s now feeling alienated and a little resentful at this treatment, when he also just forgot to respond – and the chances are she’s unlikely to get an enthusiastic response if she needs to ask for help with something in future.
If she’d reached out to that person in the same way she did to the other – even if it felt a little awkward – it could have been transformative. All that bad feeling would be avoided, and the foundations of trust and respect would be formed.
If there’s a relationship you’d like to improve, all that work will be done through the use of micro-moments just like this, and so many more – the opportunities for an impression to be formed happen many times over, day in and day out. So here are some micro-moments of wisdom to think about when coming up with a plan for changing that relationship for the better.
Know your Workmate’s Work
The impact of micro-moments, where they come from and how they land, can be so different depending on what someone has on their plate at the time. The difference in how the same micro-moment is received and interpreted can be huge, and so are the outcomes. Getting a good general understanding of what your colleagues are dealing with at work can make a massive difference in helping you to understand their point of view – and can help you anticipate how they may react to any given interaction. Our example gives us two identical micro-moments for the email sender. Both people failed to respond to her request, but because she knew more about one of them, she felt more able to ask. Maybe knowing a little more about the other person’s workload would have told her that they also had too much in their inbox, and they just missed it too.
In the same way, micro-moments from your colleague may not have anything to do with you or something you’ve done – but that won’t stop you stewing on a conversation that didn’t go the way you expected, and wondering if they have a problem with you or something you said. A great way to find out is just by asking a simple question: “Is everything OK for you at the moment – and is it anything I’ve done?”. Our organiser could have opened both conversations with this line, had the same outcome with one, and a much better outcome with the other.
Journal your micro-moments
Make a note of your last few interactions with that person and how they’ve gone, as well as how they were received. For example, if you made an offer of help with a project, did it get an enthusiastic acceptance, or a polite (or maybe otherwise!) refusal? This will help you to spot patterns and figure out where the problem may lie.
Make up for bad ones with more good ones
For every negative micro-moment you’ve had with someone, you’ll need to deliver a greater number of positive ones to make up for them. Sadly, and as we can see from our example, damage is far more easily and swiftly done than putting together the positive building blocks of a good relationship. Our email sender will need to put in the work to get this one back on track – maybe offering to help out where she can, or even including him in an invitation to lunch or coffee with the team that may not have occurred to her before. Even if he doesn’t want to go, the gesture will be appreciated.
Micro-moments are the building blocks of your relationships – so make sure each one comes with the best of intentions, and reach out to mend them where you need to. It will pay dividends for your enjoyment of the workplace, what you can achieve, and the health and wellbeing of others too.
If you’d like support in understanding and managing your relationships with co-workers – or with your team – get in touch for a no-obligation, free of charge consultation.