We are wired to connect. Maslow was wrong when he suggested the fundamentals to our survival were merely the physical needs of food, water and shelter. What matters more and has contributed to our continuing successful evolution has been our ability to connect with each other. Human babies are born vulnerable and immature - they depend completely on forming a bond with a parent or caregiver who is willing to look after them.
What I've noticed while working with different organisations, associations and universities is how often they share that their major challenge is knowing how to improve employee contribution and manage organisational change more effectively.
The solution lies in creating greater human connection.
Human connection is vital for safety. We form tribes of people like us that help us feel safe. It's vital for learning and sharing knowledge - it amplifies what we know and understand. It creates a culture for continuing growth and prosperity.
The happiest places on the planet may not have all the latest technology or monetary wealth that we in the developed West ascribe the most value to. What they do have is a strong sense of community, collaboration and contribution. Our greatest reward comes from doing something for someone else that we identify as having a need we can help them with. This doesn't come from making a donation or writing out a cheque, but in real-time human-to-human connection.
Yet too often, at work or in our educational institutions this understanding of the need for human connection gets brushed to one side in the pursuit of profit or academic excellence. We forget it is the addition of our social intelligence or SQ that catapults our intrinsic motivation and performance to the next level.
Think back to when you were at school. Was there one particular person, a teacher or other who made the greatest impact on your choice of subjects or future career? While technology is making an enormous contribution to how we learn and how we work, what matters is keeping our technology as the servant rather than allowing it to dictate how we think and function.
Which is why a quote in an article in the Weekend Australian newspaper questioning the value and expense of supplying computers to kids in schools drew my attention.
"We see teaching as fundamentally a social activity. It's about interaction between people, about discussion, about conversation."
John Vallance Headmaster Sydney Grammar School
This is not saying that technology is bad. Far from it. Our new technologies have made our lives and work easier in so many ways.
But, technology is changing our brains, making us work faster and think differently. The danger lies in allowing our technology to reduce our thinking capacity to surface skimmers and headline grabbers where we never take the time out to pause to reflect and think more deeply.
Lack of human connection is contributing to our growing sense of disconnect and loneliness. If we are serious about addressing the rapidly escalating levels of stress, anxiety and depression in our society we need go no further than identifying how to create a higher level of social interaction.
Social exclusion whether by deliberate choice or imposed as a punishment causes us great pain and that pain is just as intense and severe as any physical pain. Indeed studies have shown how taking Tylenol (a painkiller) can ease some of the severity of those social pains we experience.
If you have ever found yourself working in an environment where fear and uncertainty has led to the formation of silos where individuals or department bunker down, operating merely to ensure survival, ask yourself, what difference would a higher level of human connectivity make here?
What if leaders and executives took time out to engage in meaningful discussion to actively listen to the challenges those working for them face on a daily basis?
What if debate, discussion and questions were raised on a regular basis at work?
What if your company or organisation was to ban internal email except at specific hours?
In 2011 Volkswagen took the unprecedented step of not sending emails to employees out of work hours. The result? Employee productivity and happiness increased.
Stephen Voida from the University of Colorado reported the findings of a very small study of 13 office workers who were asked to quit email for one week. They were not able to read or send new emails during that period. The results revealed how this led to staff not only getting out from their seats more often (a bonus for better brain health) but also having more face to face conversations in preference to the alternative of making a phone call and best of all, a measurable reduction in stress as demonstrated by an increase in heart rate variability.
Last year it is estimated we as a planet sent around 205 billion emails every day. That is 2.4 million every second or about 74 trillion over the course of the year.
How many of the emails you receive every day are really that important? How much time and energy do you devote to managing your inbox and how much less stressed would you feel if you could cut them out and have a few face-to-face conversations instead?
Or is that just me?
When we connect with someone we like and trust, we secrete more oxytocin, the so-called trust hormone, which enables us to form bonds with others. As oxytocin rises so does our mood. We can boost our oxytocin with a high-five or a hug - something we're not likely to experience in an email exchange. While it may not be appropriate to hug everyone in your office (some people might think you're acting a little weird if you do) a simple smile and acknowledgment can go a long way to foster better interpersonal relationships.
As we move forwards a future brimming with opportunity and potential, our success will depend on our ability to stay connected at a human level. It is up to each and everyone one of us to retain our unique sense of humanity and what it means to be human.
- Is social connection an important component in your workplace?
- Do you work for someone who has a high level of SQ?
- What are the key areas where you can see how greater social connection could help resolve a problem?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.