One of the greatest unsung martyrs of the switch to WFH is the ‘work friend’.
They were truly unique 9-5 friendships, with lunchtime gossip, impromptu coffee-breaks, and comforting shoulders to lean on when the going – and the workload – gets tough.
Now, it can feel a little awkward to reach out. Is a Zoom call too burdensome? Is a slack message too casual? Our human need to belong is offset by our (also human) fear of rejection. Perhaps more than wanting to connect, we don’t want to be annoying.
Luckily, science tells us otherwise.
The Surprise Factor
According to the latest research on this very topic, it turns out we actually underestimate how much our friends or colleagues would appreciate us reaching out.
It’s all about where our attention is directed. When we’re drafting a message to a ‘long-lost’ friend, we’re more focused on how competent we’re coming across and less focused on how positively surprised they’ll be to receive our message.
This makes us underestimate how much they’ll like it.
On the other hand, because the message is unexpected, they’re more focused on their feelings of surprise (and your warmth) having received your message.
This makes them appreciate it more.
The ‘Just Because’ Principle
We tend to want to wait for a reason to reach out. But relevant reasons usually appear when we occupy a similar reality to others.
By virtue of someone being a ‘long-lost’ friend, we simply no longer share similar realities with this person. If you’re waiting for common ground, you’ll be waiting a long time.
The good thing is you really don’t need to. Science tell us that others’ appreciation of us reaching out can result from fulfilling a “minimum criterion”. Basically, all it takes is a check-in gesture, a simple “Thinking of you”.
When we reach out to others, we become more socially confident, less anxious, more empathetic, and our immune systems even get stronger. And when we get an unexpected positive message, our brains get flooded with feel-good dopamine, improving our moods, attention, and wellbeing.
Not to mention, reminiscing about the good old days makes us feel less lonely. Research on nostalgia tells us that speaking ‘wistfully’ about the past also makes us more ambitious and more optimistic about our futures.
So, the next time you’re debating why you should reach out to someone, think: Just because.
What you can do right now
“It’s been a while. Want to grab a coffee? How’s Thursday?”