You don’t need to be best friends with your colleagues, but research shows that forging connections at work can make you feel better and help you get things done. Studies have shown that having friendships in the workplace can help you better cope with stress, avoid loneliness, and boost your productivity. Yet cultivating a close friendship with someone you work with can be tricky — especially if you don’t click with them.
We’ve all been there: You want nothing more than to connect with a team member, but maybe you don’t often see eye-to-eye on projects, or conversation between you can feel a bit forced. No matter how much you try to break through, the two of you simply don’t get one another. The most frustrating part of this dynamic may be that you can’t put your finger on the reason why you haven’t been able to build a rapport.
That’s where science comes in.
There is growing research on the biological and psychological reasons humans click with one another — or not. Much of it has to do with body language and brain waves, and whether or not they naturally synchronize with one another. A 2018 study published in Nature Communications found that people with similar neural responses to the environment around them were more likely to be friends. And what’s more, friends are more likely to synchronize their body language and movements, Lynden Miles, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia’s School of Psychological Science, tells Thrive.
“Interpersonal synchrony is the phenomenon whereby a person’s behavior aligns with others. A common example can be observed when two friends are walking and talking together. Often, without any intention, their footsteps will spontaneously synchronize — they will temporarily fall into step with one another without knowing they are doing so,” Miles says. Synchrony and social bonding tend to go hand-in-hand; people who click with one another tend to synchronize more often, whereas strangers or people who do not naturally develop a mutual understanding do not. There are ways to counter this, though, and ultimately create a pathway to feel more comfortable and connected with someone you don’t click with at work.
Ask to cooperate on tasks
Spending more time working alongside your colleague on the same task can help you establish better teamwork — and might show you that you have more commonalities than you initially thought. “People are generally more prosocial after a period of synchronous activity. They are more cooperative, have better recall of their interactions, especially what their interaction partners have said, are better able to take the perspective of others, and even experience a boost in self-esteem,” Miles says. While the workplace might not be conducive to what are traditionally thought of as synchronous activities, like singing or dancing, walking meetings are a great way for you to get to know each better, and while you participate, you can can sync up your stride, or complete tasks side by side.
Build a foundation of trust
Trust is especially important in workplace relationships because it can lead to the exchange of ideas, greater innovation, and deeper connection, according to a study in the Journal of Business Models. A simple, yet extremely significant way, to build a sense of trust between you and your colleague is to hold more informal meetings. The study details just how effective these kinds of meetings can be; participants noted that a more casual environment motivated out-of-the-box thinking, a free flow of ideas, and personal acquaintance. Because informal meetings reduced feelings of competition and gave employees the space to voice their feelings and opinions, a greater sense of trust was achieved. You can follow suit by informally checking in with your colleague at least once a week — over lunch or even in scheduled blocks of time. The key is to keep things casual — don’t hold the meeting in a high-pressure environment. Instead, spend most of your time listening to your colleague, rather than talking yourself, and ask follow-up questions that encourage them to open up.
Be candid and compassionately direct with your colleague
If you still feel like you aren’t making progress with your co-worker, use a compassionately direct approach to simply tell them how you feel. Your honesty will show your co-worker that you care about connecting and are willing to put in the effort to make it happen. What’s more, mindfully communicating will encourage your co-worker to do the same, and they might just have some specific ideas about how to make your workplace relationship better.
With a little bit of trust and mindful communication, you will find building rapport with a colleague is not too difficult after all — even if you don’t click right away.
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