Unstructured interactions. 

Those two words make all of the difference in a business setting.

We all know people behave their best in meetings and working sessions, and if you have a formal one-on-one with your boss, you might even have a set agenda.

This type of structure is important in terms of keeping a business running fluidly, but everyone knows the "real" work takes place offline.

In the moments between meetings, in the hallway chats and break-room discussions, we discover the real person and what is really driving them. I've had formal meetings with people in a group, and then minutes later the same person tells me something totally different in private. Interestingly enough, it's these unstructured interactions that also determine whether people like working with you.

Of course, the word "like" is hard to define, but in business it means they trust you with information, they enjoy hanging out with you, and they want to be part of your project.

If you go all day and find no one is ever stopping by your desk to chat about the weather, they rarely ever discuss politics or sports with you by the coffee machine, and they don't even know where your office is located, there might be a problem.

In an office setting, everyone knows the structured activities are required.

You have to go to the meetings and work on the project with a team, and people will even turn on the charm in those settings. If you think back over the last few months and years, consider how often your co-workers have stopped by just to shoot the breeze--a.k.a, talking to you when it isn't required or in a formal meeting.

They might be busy with work or too detailed-oriented to bother but the truth eventually comes out. We're all human, and that means we have emotions, feelings, motivations, desires, and hurts. If no one is sharing any of those with you, they are likely sharing them with someone else. The trick is to become the person people like.

So how do you do that? For most of us, the answer is often to stop being so self-serving and interested in your own advancement and to express empathy and concern for others at all times. I recently wrote about how expressing empathy is the most important trait for all workplace interactions, and the wonderful benefit to truly being there for others is that they will like you and prefer your company. We all like support. A sure sign that something is terribly wrong is when no one seeks you out for advice or encouragement.

Now, I don't mean to imply that this is a mere strategy or something to do in a non-genuine way. It has to be real, and to make it real, you may need to do some work on yourself when it comes to motivation and self-image. Get rid of all resentment and bitterness. Learn to smile more. Figure out how to be someone that others want to be around.

Once you start doing that, here's an experiment to try to see if showing more empathy and concern for others makes you more likable. Again, no bitterness or resentment, only a positive outlook, then simply start encouraging people a lot more. Find out what they are doing right and tell them. Do this for an entire week with a few people who are doing good work in the office. Become an empathetic supporter of others.

Then, start paying attention.

Do the same people who you encouraged in a genuine way--the ones you interacted with in a positive way and gave positive feedback--start coming by your office and talking about non-work topics? Do they start hanging out with you more?

If you try my experiment, I'm really curious to find out the results. Try encouraging others as much as possible in a genuine way, and see if they suddenly start finding your cubicle. Drop me a note once you've tried this and seen results.