This one simple activity will change your life.
Life is becoming busier. In fact, Silicon Valley, where I live, was just recognized as having the 5th worst traffic in the country. Americans in general are working longer hours and enjoying less leisure time than any other peace-time period in history.
Among other things, this dismal fact makes it difficult to feel connected. And since human connection is so highly correlated with health, creativity and job satisfaction, it’s at least worth considering setting aside a couple of minutes a day to attend to it. A couple of minutes? Is that a typo, a bad joke or link bait?
Stay with me, I’ll make it quick.
Studies show that while strong social ties (the ones we have less time for) are key to health and happiness, so in fact are weak ones. Weak ties are those connections; coworkers, bus drivers, school acquaintances, baristas, bar tenders, clerks….you get it; people you see on a regular basis but may not even know by name because the two of you don’t run in the same social circles. These weak ties can be as closely related to positive health benefits as strong social ties, if you know how to leverage them.
‘Leveraging weak ties’ is clinical-speak for recognizing, acknowledging, and/or making small talk with those people you run into in the elevator, sit next to on the train, or stand near while waiting in line. Even if you’ve never seen them before and will probably never see them again, friendly eye contact, a smile and a brief hello is enough to significantly correlate with outcomes such as mood, energy and creativity.
Now perhaps you don’t really care about improving your emotional well-being, you don’t have the time, too much work to do. In that case, this practice will probably serve you especially well in the workplace. Whether you’re working with people as a leader, subordinate or peer, friendly acknowledgement and recognition of those around you will elevate feelings of positivity, creativity and cooperation both for you and your coworkers.
If this sounds like too tall an order; you don’t like people that much, or it’s so far a stretch it sounds phony or obnoxious, think again. Studies show that people convinced they would prefer reading on the plane or subway to making small talk turned out to be wrong. Social scientists know that people often have strong opinions about their preferences before they’ve been backed by experience. This is a common condition known as familiarity bias. If it’s not familiar, we assume a negative outcome.
For psychology geeks
In one experiment, Metra commuters were instructed to “enjoy their solitude” and refrain from speaking to other commuters. The other group was asked to talk to another passenger. The third group received no instructions. At the end of the commute, participants filled out a survey rating the experience.
The results? Despite the fact that most believed they would prefer a solitary commute, passengers asked to interact with others reported having the most enjoyable commute. On the other hand, those invited to relish their solitude reported the least enjoyable commute.
Regardless of how people rated themselves in terms of social prowess; the same results were the same among introverts and extroverts.
These findings dovetail nicely with those of social psychologists Gillian Sandstrom and Elizabeth Dunn, linking greater levels of happiness and belonging with more interactions with others outside of our normal social networks.
And as we know from experiences ranging from laugh tracks to funerals, emotions are contagious. This happens through a process known as mimicry during which our “mirror neurons” get fired up every time we witness happy (or sad) experiences of others. Just as “laughter is contagious”, so are the optimistic feelings involved in positively connecting with others, no matter how brief the interaction.
In short, this practice will elevate feelings of creativity, positivity and satisfaction both for you and those around you.
Make it a point to positively connect during each opportune interaction throughout the course of a week, with a focus on people you work with. That’s all it takes to launch a seismic shift in dynamics toward a culture of belonging and positivity, and of course, well being.
Interested in hosting a (free) talk on the whys and hows of building connection in the workplace? Contact me today at firstname.lastname@example.org.