The Theory of Interpersonal Synchrony

Fitting In

When you are new to a company, “fitting in” feels very important. It is important. Positive relationships at work allow you to build the trust that is necessary for any team to be successful. Plus, friendships just make work more enjoyable. I’ve never had trouble making friends at work until I came to New Relic.

(Spoiler alert, it all worked out! Things got better!)

I just couldn’t figure it out. Despite having peers and other coworkers who were friendly and welcoming, I couldn’t shake this feeling of isolation, of “otherness”. Then I read an article that talked about a concept called Interpersonal Synchrony, and a lightbulb came on over my head: Maybe the mobility issues I had been dealing with since my accident were contributing to my feelings of isolation. I hadn’t been able to engage in the natural “mirroring” that helps people build rapport, which was making it harder to feel truly CONNECTED here. Whoa.

What is Interpersonal Synchrony?

Have you ever heard that advice about job interviews where you’re supposed to match your own posture to the posture of the person who is interviewing you? They lean forward in their chair, so you lean forward, too. That is called “mirroring”, which is a form of interpersonal synchrony. 

Another example of this kind of synchrony is when you are walking with a friend and you fall into rhythm with them; you naturally fall into step. It turns out this kind of social behavior is pretty vital to forming successful relationships with the people around us. It makes us feel good to be around people who behave the way we do. 

Think about that.

What if you’re in a wheelchair? Use a cane?

People with mobility issues are at a social disadvantage because they literally can’t participate in the natural rhythm of walking and talking that happens in an office environment. On the flip side, this adds an interesting dimension to thinking about the almost unconscious affinity that happens among people with mobility challenges. I know every single person in the Portland Office who walks with a cane because I do, too. I see you, friends. 

Adjusting my approach

After this epiphany, I realized I was going to have to work a little bit harder to make the kind of relationships happen that I needed and wanted. I made a more conscious effort to be social. I reached out and made more lunch plans, started more conversations, and spoke up in more meetings. Subtly, I encouraged others to sit with me instead of standing or walking so I could engage with them more naturally. These extra efforts paid off, and I don’t feel alone the way I did in the early days of my return to work post-accident. It has improved my experience of New Relic in ways I can’t even fully articulate, except to say that I am happy. I fit in. 

The moral of the story

My intention is to raise awareness of disability issues (and make us all a little more CONNECTED by describing the way one person with a temporary physical disability experiences the world. I do not speak for all disabled people, and I certainly do not intend to make anyone feel bad. Who knew that walking at the same pace as your coworkers makes them like you better? I sure didn’t. 

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