Why is work the number one place where adults make most of their friends? Because consistency is one of the three relationship requirements, and there's nowhere we're more consistent in our lives than where we're paid to show up regularly. Work is to adults as school is to kids: the best place to interact frequently with the same people.
But what happens to all those work friendships—whose consistency relied upon sharing a breakroom, sitting beside each other, chatting in the hallway, or connecting briefly after meetings—when so many of us are now working remote?
We have to create a new pattern of consistency. The bad news is that one of the things we loved about those friendships is that the consistency was more-or-less automatic for us when we shared a workplace; now it falls on us to initiate connection and set up our own regular interactions. The good news is that if we learn how to create a habit of interaction on our own, these friendships will buffer us from burn-out while working remotely, will feel stronger and closer should we ever work together again, and will be more likely to survive in the eventuality that one of us changes jobs. Proving that we know how to keep up our friendship even when we're not paid to run into each other is one of the most important gifts we can give our work friends!
Work is to adults as school is to kids: the best place to interact frequently with the same people.
First Step to Keeping Close: Create New Consistency
So the first step in making sure we stay close, or feel closer, to friends from our job is to figure out how we can keep interacting in an ongoing way even we aren't physically close. If we don't have shared experiences or consistent interaction, then we can't meet the other two relationship requirements (keep reading to find out what those are).
A relationship can only be produced when time together is repeated frequently enough through shared experiences and reliable interactions.
- Initiate the Conversation: "I miss seeing you! We clearly can't rely on proximity and spontaneity now to stay in touch… what would feel best to you to help us stay in touch more?"
- Prioritize Routines: The best ideas will be the ones that don't have to continue to rely on someone initiating and scheduling but rather are ongoing and repetitious. Think of ideas such as sharing a remote lunch every Wednesday, checking in via phone every Monday morning, ending the work week with a 15 min toast where you each share a highlight from the week, opening up a chat where you each connect for a few moments every morning, setting up a monthly Zoom call, or deciding to stay on for 15 minutes after weekly team meetings.
- Honor the Appointment: Treat your time together like the important meeting that it is, scheduling around it so the other person knows they can rely on you to value their time.
Next Step: Be Intentional to Increase Vulnerability & Positivity
Once we have time together scheduled, it becomes crucial to then be as intentional as possible during that time to add in the other two relationship requirements that make our relationships feel meaningful: Vulnerability and Positivity.
We can only feel close to someone else if we both feel seen, meaning we need to feel like we know each other and have a good sense of what's going on in each other's lives and hearts.
- Focus on Sharing Emotions, not Tasks: If you talk about the job, make it about how you feel about the work, not the work itself. In other words, focus on your sharing on an emotion: what you're proud of, what is giving you hope, what is draining your energy, what is annoying you, what is motivating you, or what helps you feel focused. We don't want to simply update, each other with facts, we want to feel like our lives are being witnessed.
- Hold Space for Highs and Lows: Our goal isn't to just vent together, but it's also not to only talk about what's feeling good. Consider sharing a success and a stressor each week with each other to create the habit of both cheering and empathizing.
- Share the Time: Make sure there is protected time for each person to share without one person regularly taking up most of the time.
We can spend time together and open up, but we aren't going to want to keep doing it unless it leaves us feeling good. Relationships need more positive emotions than negative emotions to ensure that we enjoy each other and feel accepted by one another.
- Cheer Louder: Practice expressing your support, appreciation, and pride of each other even more now when there's so much else that drains us. Our goal is to have others leave our presence feeling better about themselves for having interacted with us.
- Initiate an Act of Kindness: Whether it's a surprise card in the mail, a bottle of wine delivered, an unexpected audio message telling her three things you love about her, or offering to pick up things for her from Costco when you go, consider a gesture outside of a conversation that communicates care.
- Thank Her Every Time: We all love to feel appreciated. Try to end every conversation (or text her a follow-up) expressing one thing you're grateful for about her—something you learned in that conversation about her, something you appreciated that she said, or simply telling her how much it meant that you shared this time together.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if we're remote or in-person, as long as we both feel seen (the outcome of vulnerability) in a safe (the outcome of consistency) and satisfying (the outcome of positivity) way. The more we practice these three drivers of a relationship with someone, the closer we'll feel to them.
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Help! My Friend Is a No Show
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.
Dear Sadsies,I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.
I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!
- The Armchair Psychologist