Work friends only? How the “repotting” tactic can transform your relationships

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A good workplace friendship is the equivalent of a four-season sleeping bag. You rarely think of it out of context (be that the office or an alpine tent), but in the right setting, it’s everything – providing comfort, respite and a much-needed anchor in stormy weather. It may even be the difference between a fun experience and one that is downright miserable. 

All of which makes the transient nature of work friendships a strange concept to deal with. Because most people recognise the power of a good office friendship. A study last year found that over half of us would actually settle for a lower salary if it meant having more meaningful relationships with colleagues. And yet an even higher proportion of us – 61% – don’t socialise with co-workers beyond the daily grind. 

So, what magic power takes a work friendship beyond the confines of team lunches and weekly drinks, and into the broader sphere of life? London-based author Max Dickins, improvisation work coach and the man behind the memoir Billy No Mates, has a trick up his sleeve. 

In a recent post on LinkedIn, Dickins – whose book follows his real-life quest to find more friends – describes a tactic people can use to transform more casual work friendships into closer bonds. The technique, known as “repotting”, was coined by friendship expert Ryan Hubbard.

If you want it to be a bigger, deeper friendship, you need to repot it

“We repot a friendship as we would repot a sapling that has outgrown its terracotta cup,” Dickins explains. He goes onto quote Hubbard, who says: “Sometimes you’ve got a friend at work, and you see them every day, but the pot that plant is in at work is quite small.

“It’s going to reach the size of the pot, and that’s it. If you want it to be a bigger, deeper friendship, you need to repot it to a bigger context. You might need to bring them to your house. Or invite them to meet your family – that’s an even bigger pot.”

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In other words, if you want to make richer friendships out of your work connections, you need to start mixing worlds a little. You’re inviting the colleagues you like to see another side of you; one that extends beyond the parameters of daily deadlines, meetings and Slack chats. 

Naturally, it requires courage to moot the idea of stretching that boundary. As Dickins says, you have to “take the risk to express to someone that you’d like to do something with them outside of situations where you’re required to spend time together”. 

You’re inviting the colleagues you like to see another side of you

The rewards, however, are pretty awesome. You may well get to “repot” your friendship outside the workplace, giving root to something that lasts – even when either of you moves on from your job, and no longer have it as your common denominator. At the very least, you’ll get to know one another a bit better.

The repotting strategy is especially helpful for work friendships because of the way they often get stuck in small talk and surface-level interactions. It allows scope for greater depth in a world beyond the one you know; the one that’s both familiar and confining. 

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Yet the same approach could also be used for any midlife friendship that relies on a particular context; whether that’s a friendly fellow Dad you know from the school gates or the woman you chat to at HIIT class. 

There’s nothing wrong with these friendships staying exactly where they are: fleeting, everyday, a way to pass the time. But if you feel stuck, or find yourself craving something more, keep the repotting theory in mind. 

In all likelihood, it’s only the size of the pot that’s stopping your connection from being bigger than it is. And if you’re willing to take the leap and suggest swapping containers (contexts), you might find room for a friendship that truly lasts the distance. What have you got to lose?

Flash Pack is a group travel company that specialises in small group adventures for solo travellers in their 30s and 40s. Find out more about how we work, and our mission to build a global community of friendships

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