What kind of relationships do you have with your coworkers? Are there certain individuals whom you consider to be your friends? And are there others whom you view as difficult or unpleasant? If so, you’re not alone. According to authors Kerry Roberts Gibson and Beth Schinoff, humans are hardwired to view things as “good” or “bad” – either one extreme or the other. That’s why we tend to view our coworkers as friends or foes, even though people are rarely all good or all bad.

We believe that our good relationships will remain that way forever and our bad ones can never be repaired, although this is far from the truth. In reality, the nature of our relationships are shifting all the time. Even the best relationship can sour if negative things happen. And the worst relationships can be repaired, with a little effort.

Gibson and Schinoff found that it doesn’t take some sort of horrific act to cause a good relationship with a coworker to weaken. And it doesn’t take an amazing, grand gesture to repair a flawed relationship. It’s the small, everyday interactions that make all the difference. They refer to these things as “micromoves.” And according to the authors, they’re more powerful and influential than you might imagine. Here are a couple examples:

  • Bob emails Janice (a coworker whom he considers to be a friend) and asks her for help with a project. Janice never responds to Bob’s email. He doesn’t know why, and he feels annoyed. Later, when Janice asks Bob for a favor, he tells her that he’s unable to help her out.
  • Mary and George have never gotten along very well at work. But recently, when Mary heard that George’s dog had died, she made a point of going to talk to him and offer her condolences. George appreciated her thoughtfulness, and it made him reassess their relationship. In a group meeting later that week, he made a point of praising her work on a recent project.

One small micromove can push a work relationship in a positive or negative direction. And that small push can give rise to other micromoves that continuously cause the relationship to evolve.

So how can you use micromoves to help strengthen your relationships with your colleagues? Gibson and Schinoff suggest you do the following:

  • Try to see things from your coworker’s point of view – We all react to things differently. An action that’s considered to be a nice gesture by one person might be viewed as intrusive by another person. So before you make a micromove, think about how your coworker is probably going to react (based on what you know about that person). And think about how you would react if you were in his or her situation.
  • Make adjustments when necessary – Once you make your micromove, watch how your coworker responds. If the person doesn’t respond well, make adjustments and keep trying.
  • Dig a little deeper – If a coworker suddenly seems to be angry with you, it may have been due to a negative micromove that you made. But it might also be some sort of misunderstanding. If you’re not sure why things have suddenly taken a turn for the worse, don’t be afraid to ask your coworker if he or she is angry with you. (And if so, why?)
  • Try to take an outsider’s view – When things get difficult and emotional, it can sometimes be hard to see how you might have contributed to the situation. Bad relationships often form when mistakes are made on both sides. Try to be honest with yourself about how you’ve been behaving. Are you really trying to repair the relationship or are you doing things to make it worse?
  • Write it down – Keep track of the micromoves that you make and how your coworker responds to them. This will help you to more fully understand the way you interact with each other and to make improvements in the future.
  • Put in the effort – Unfortunately, one bad micromove generally can’t be repaired with one good micromove. Bad micromoves have more of an impact than good ones. So it may take several good micromoves to repair the damage that’s done by a bad one. This can be a little bit tiring. But it’s definitely worth the effort!

Gibson, K. R., & Schinoff, B. (2019, May 29). The little things that affect our work relationships. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2019/05/the-little-things-that-affect-our-work-relationships?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=hbr&fbclid=IwAR2eiQd3qJkVBUH0d2phO7dCP7C4TWNvMIcQDShbZUtOeyRDgjq4cml9Aog