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How Social Connection Helps Us Think Better

Social Connection

Why We are Drawn to Connect

As human beings, we are wired to connect with others. It is our friendships that help us to thrive. Spending time with others who we like and consider similar to us is as important to our very survival as air, food and water.

For centuries, our ability to connect has been an essential survival tool as:

  • 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.
  • From an evolutionary perspective, being part of a tribe reduced our risk of being picked off by a predator (safety in numbers!).
  • Living in groups made hunting for food hopefully more successful.
  • Connecting with others has allowed us the ability to share knowledge, ideas and skills so we don’t all have to know everything about everything (thank goodness), and so we can stretch our existing capability to improve or up-skill.

The science shows that we’re drawn to connect.

 

Research by Dacher Keltner, author of the Power Paradox and Born to be Good, has revealed how it is the strength of our vagal tone that determines empathy and compassion. A higher vagal tone calms the mind and promotes more positive and prosocial emotion via the impact on our oxytocin levels. This leads to what Keltner surmises to serve our greatest need; to connect, survive and thrive. Meaning we are hardwired to connect and care.

Human connection is our brain’s default mode. When not focused on a particular task we default automatically to start thinking about ourselves and others. This is what’s known as our ‘default network.’ Rather than just being a time of aimless mind wandering, this is when our social thinking comes in to play. We start thinking about others, what they might be thinking, feeling or saying.

Happy at Work

As Matt Lieberman, in his book Social, advises, “evolution has made a bet, that the best thing for our brain to do in any spare moment is to get ready for what comes next in social terms.”

Social Connection

Problems Associated With Human Disconnection 

Loneliness

Harvard researchers have noted that loneliness is worse for our health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Professor John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, revealed how social isolation disrupts our world-view, behaviour and physiology. Social isolation and loneliness have been shown to lead to a loss of motivation, contribution and poorer physical and mental health. Loneliness increases our risk of dying at an earlier age, it’s bad for our heart and our ability to sleep, and it results in increased levels of inflammation in the body.

It’s estimated that loneliness affects one in four Australian adults, with 50% feeling lonely for at least one day and week, and over 25% feeling lonely for three or more days. Of those surveyed in a recent study, young adults were found to be the loneliest (62%) compared to the over 65s who are the least lonely (46%).

However, being alone is not the issue. Many of us relish that precious time to think, reflect and recharge. It’s feeling lonely that grinds you down. It makes us more anti-social and we tend to push away those who seek to help.

Loneliness is leading to a loss of human connection and a 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 to go no further than identifying how to create a higher level of social interaction.

 

Missed opportunities

When we fail to connect and stay connected, we miss all the potential opportunities to explore new options, experiences and ideas.

Pain

Social pain, whether it is a broken heart, being on the receiving end of cyber-bullying or being overlooked for a promotion, is real pain and pain that is just as intense and severe as any physical pain. What we know from social cognitive neuroscience is how social pain and physical pain share common neural pathways, so no wonder it hurts so much.

However, we frequently fail to acknowledge that much of our social pain has a strong physical element to it, and we ignore social pain at our peril.

Happy Office

Reduced success

Whatever your definition of success might be, it is likely to include a sense of achievement, fulfilment and thrival. We thrive in the company of others as social connection boosts wellbeing and cognitive performance – it’s one of the key pillars for better brain health that leads to greater success.

 

Unhappiness

Human connection is what makes us happy – life is too short to spend it being miserable.

    Social Connection

    Why We’re Socially Disconnected

    Despite living at a time of increased technological connectivity, more and more people say they are feeling more socially disconnected than ever before and this is harming our mental wellbeing. There are several reasons why we may feel socially disconnected:

     

    • Living alone
    • Working “offsite”
    • Social interaction anxiety
    • Depression
    • Fewer friends
    • Tall Poppy Syndrome leading to feelings of less safety at work to speak out
    • Underestimating the value of our social intelligence
      Happy Office

      Why We are Drawn to Connect

      Humans thrive together. Hardwired to connect, we do our best when working with others, especially those we consider like us, sharing common beliefs and values. The benefits of our social connections, in life and at the place we call work, include:

      Brain Safety & Security

      Human connection is vital for safety and a feeling of security. When we are in a place of uncertainty, being faced with a new challenge, or when we are unsure of what is being expected of us, it puts us in a state of potential threat. So, we form tribes of people like us that help us feel safe. The brain responds in 200 milliseconds to answer the questions “Is it safe to stay here?” and “Is this person a friend or foe?”. If the answer is “safe to proceed” it puts us at ease, we relax (for the moment) and it frees up access to our conscious mind so we can get on with the work of solving problems more quickly, making good decisions, being willing to collaborate, innovate and show sound judgment.

      Happy at Work

      Competence & Risk Avoidance 

      Promoting win-win moments through connection boosts our collective competence and our trust. Trust and a feeling of psychological safety lead to more shared ideas and knowledge. If you get on well with your co-worker and you notice they’ve made a mistake, you’re more likely to point it out so it can be corrected. The friend is now grateful to you for not letting their mistake jeopardise the success of the project and you feel good for helping them out.

      Having good friends and mates at work has also been shown to reduce the risk of accidents by 36%. Caring more about each other means that if you notice a potential physical hazard, you’ll deal with it to reduce the risk to everyone. Mindful safety becomes everyone’s responsibility.

      Happiness

      Human connection is what makes us happy and we are most happy when we know we are making a positive difference to someone else. 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, a simple smile and acknowledgment can go a long way to foster better interpersonal relationships and boost happiness.

       

      Innovation & Creativity

      Being more social enhances innovation and the desire to create solutions to problems both big and small.

       

      Knowledge

      Connection with others is vital for learning and sharing knowledge – it amplifies what we know and understand.

      Performance, Motivation & Engagement

      The benefit of good connections cannot be overstated when it comes to performance, efficiency and effectiveness. Engagement surveys by Gallup confirm a business advantage to having a friend or, better still, a best friend at work. Social connection makes our work seem more worthwhile and helps us navigate successfully through the bad times as well as the good. Results from a survey of 33,000 tech workers, by a job site called Comparably, found that 60% of women and 56% of men reported having a BFF at work. Women who agree they have a work BFF enjoy double the level of engagement (63%) compared to those who don’t (29%).

      Gallup also reports that social connection can boost profit levels by up to 12%. Not a bad outcome for leaders seeking a way to retain a competitive advantage.

      Happy at Work

      Reward

      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. Feeling rewarded boosts the release of dopamine: our feel-good hormone. More dopamine shots are far more energising and sustaining than having to rely on extra coffee to get us through our day.

       

      Team Cohesion & Collaboration

      While the boss might disapprove of social chitchat and conversations around the water cooler, these interactions play a vital role in securing more meaningful interpersonal relationships that lead to greater team cohesion, more discretionary effort and effective collaboration.

      While working with different organisations, associations and universities, what I’ve noticed is how often they share that their major challenge is knowing how to improve employee contribution and happiness and manage organisational change more effectively. The solution lies in creating greater human connection.

       

      Enhancing greater social cohesion provides every one of us the bigger opportunity to bring about extraordinary change and positive difference to our world. As we move towards a future brimming with opportunity and potential, our success will depend on our ability to stay connected at a human level, and it’s up to each and every one of us to retain our unique sense of humanity and what it means to be human.

      How to Build

      Better Connections

      Gratitude

      Compassion & Kindness

      Positive Relationships

      Helping out

      Sleep

      Self-awareness

      Choice

      Attention

      Green Space

      Empathy

      Psychological Safety

      Looking up

      Sleep

      Smiling

      Sleep

      Trust

      Compassion

      Caring

      Kindness

      Face-to-face time

      Reward & Recognition

      Recognition & Gratitude

      Sleep

      Social media

      Sleep

      Volunteering

      Exercise

      Collaboration

      Mindfulness

      Greeting each other

      Sense of Purpose & Meaning

      Respect

      Sleep

      Social prescribing

      How to Build Better Connections

      Acceptance

      Accepting others opens you up to being able to better understand different perspectives and worldviews and to validate those points of difference you don’t agree with.

      Acceptance of yourself, with all your imperfections and eccentricities, can help you to feel better about yourself because you’re not having to try to impress others, by making out you’re someone that you’re not.

      How to Build Better Connections

      Attention

      In a world that can sometimes come across as being a tad mean-spirited and self-obsessed, being a little more generous with our time and attention could make it feel like a kinder, happier and safer place. It’s easy to blame our busy lives, our technology and stress for not paying attention, but ultimately, it’s our choice. Choosing to pause and to listen deeply enables greater understanding and connection.

      The gift of your full and undivided attention can help build strong interpersonal relationships. When we feel heard, that sends a powerful signal that we are valued and that drives us to contribute more and motivates us to work harder. Remember it’s all about safety and value. If you are consistently interrupting a conversation to answer your phone, you are demonstrating that you don’t value or respect the other person.

      How to Build Better Connections

      Caring

      Caring matters because when you feel cared for and you care about other people, everything feels better. We feel safe, supported and secure. Relationships are strengthened, we are more trusting, more generous and we’ll take the time to stop and help someone in trouble. Which is why creating a workplace environment founded on care creates a massive opportunity for increased contribution, collaboration and working well together.

      How to Build Better Connections

      Collaboration

      Becoming more socially connected is about seeking ways to contribute and collaborate more, to nurture friendships and show kindness to each other. This is why collaboration across departments at work can be useful. Without the opportunity for greater transdisciplinary get-togethers, it’s a missed opportunity for new relationships and a greater understanding of how different teams and departments work within an organisation. The best way to break down silos is to seek a greater understanding of each other and developing multiple threads of connection within the workplace.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Compassion & Kindness

        No one is perfect, so if we can accept our imperfections, acknowledge how we feel and be kinder to ourselves, it promotes greater tolerance and understanding of others. Compassion starts with believing you are worthy of friendship or a relationship and practising loving-kindness towards ourselves and others. Imagine what a different world we would be living in if everyone was just 5% kinder.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Empathy

        Empathy is defined as the ability to take another person’s perspective, to take a walk in their shoes, to understand what is going on in another person’s world. Empathy shows you get that someone is doing it tough and you feel their pain.

        In Helen Reiss’ book The Empathy Effect, she relates how empathy is vital to the creation of a caring, compassionate society. Reiss describes three components of empathy:

        1. Emotional resonance. When we see someone who is hurt, our brain responds as if it is ourselves who are injured, with our pain pathways lighting up.
        2. Cognition to understand that everyone’s pain is unique to them enabling us to take the other’s perspective.
        3. Concern as the motivation to respond and take care of another person.

        Empathy engenders trust and relatedness and is incredibly powerful in building strong and enduring relationships. It provides us with insight as to what others make be thinking, makes us more “people savvy” and is vital to how we make decisions.

        At work, the empathetic leader will be the one to nurture a more successful and progressive business because when we feel cared for, listened to and appreciated we feel encouraged, more confident and willing to put in the extra effort. Empathetic leaders command greater trust and respect, boosting engagement and motivation.

        The 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study revealed that workplace empathy is acknowledged as important by leaders but a large empathy gap remains. The study revealed that:

        • 72% of CEOs believe empathy is important and needs to evolve
        • 92% of CEOs believe their organisations are empathetic
        • Only 72% of employees believe that to be true
        • However, 93% of employees have indicated they would stay with an empathetic leader

        Elevating empathy can be achieved by bringing our thoughts to our level of conscious awareness and using mindfulness and or loving-kindness meditation.

        In addition, volunteering, offering assistance to others in need without seeking reward or compensation, or doing five things a day to help someone else, have all been shown to elevate empathy, compassion and our overall levels of happiness.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Face-to-face Time

        Spending time with others face-to-face builds trust and social connection, helps us interpret the emotional and non-verbal cues being shared and facilitates understanding. Some ways you can create more face-to-face time include:

        • Sharing more face-to-face time with colleagues during a work break or over lunch. Perhaps shout them a coffee and have a non-work conversation.
        • Choosing to speak directly with a colleague rather than sending an email or text. Pop your head around the door to say “hi, is everything going OK?” periodically.
        • If you’ve arranged to meet someone for a coffee, switch off your phone or at least have it on silent. Why not enjoy the experience of where and who you are with right now?

        It is only through practice that we can get better at being more present and sharing quality time with one another. This is how we get better at developing our emotional intelligence.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Greeting Each Other

        Human connection starts with how we greet each other. It costs nothing, but a cheery “good morning” will set you up to enjoy a more productive and happier day, and leads the way for better social connection. Start with a genuine hello with eye contact, a warm smile and using the person’s name. 

        How to Build Better Connections

        Helping Out

        It’s time to get better at accepting what is happening and to ask for help.  The fastest way to build connection is to ask for or provide help when you can see the need. It might feel awkward or silly, but it is those vulnerable moments that open opportunities for great connection. Helping out and asking for help engenders trust; the first essential ingredient for any relationship to blossom.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Looking Up

        We are surrounded by instructions we don’t see. On the crowded bus, the notice that says ‘this seat is reserved for the elderly’ is disregarded until we choose to see what or who is in front of us. When we are absorbed in our social media or listening to our favourite music – we become essentially blind to what is going on around us. So, look up, look out and see our world.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Recognition & Gratitude

        It’s easy to take things and people for granted. Let’s step out of our busy thinking to notice and acknowledge those small acts of kindness performed by others.

        Expressing gratitude to our friends, our family and colleagues can be something as simple as saying ‘thank you’ or writing a personalised note. Tell others exactly what you appreciate. Describe the event, the outcome and what the positive outcome was for you or your team or the organisation as a whole. Praise walls are also a wonderful way to spread the positive news and encourage reciprocity.

        But it’s not all about recognising success. It’s important to celebrate all wins and fails because not everything works out according to the plan. Feeling safe to speak up and call out what didn’t work still allows for the recognition of effort and facilitates the learning space for what could be done differently next time to get the desired outcome.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Respect

        We all have a unique sense of worth – a status that helps us to know our place in life. We don’t need to be told what our status is, intuitively we already have the answer. Managing status and garnering respect comes from shared values and beliefs.

        Steps to promote mutual respect include:

        •  Practising active listening
        •  Showing up, and on time
        •  Not interrupting
        •  Consistent behaviour in all your interactions (treating everyone equally)
        •  Being inclusive at all times
        •  Rewarding the hard work and effort of others

        How to Build Better Connections

        Self-awareness

        This is about acknowledging our feelings and checking in on our relationships. Are you spending enough time with your friends and family? If not, what could you be doing differently to increase that time? Who is in your Inner Circle of Trust – those who you know you can depend on to chat or listen? How do you ensure you’re staying in regular contact?

        How to Build Better Connections

        Smiling

        Smile at strangers. Not in a creepy way but in a way that reflects you’re acknowledging the presence of another human being. It can also make it feel easier to move to the next step of saying “Good morning” or “Hello.”  A ten-second interaction to make both parties feel good and, of course, the next time your paths will cross you’ve already established the first rung of connection.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Social Media

        Being social rocks and our technology and social media platforms have allowed us to take this to the next level. The beauty of our technology is that it has made it a lot easier to stay connected with friends and family online even if they’re a long way from where you are.

        Scheduling a regular phone call, Skype or Zoom provides you with something to look forward to – and that makes us feel better straight away.

        Social media has provided a fabulous array of different channels to feel a sense of belonging. Find an online community group that you share a common interest in as a way to make new online friends – whether you’re on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, sharing you and being accepted has never been easier.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Social Prescribing

        This is where a GP or allied health provider refers a person to a community-led initiative providing a safe environment such as local men’s sheds, art classes, gardening groups, or community projects for the gradual reintroduction of human connection.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Trust

        It’s the foundation of every relationship in work and life: it determines our success. Trust is great for business because relationships are all about trust and connection, and all business is based on relationships

        When present, trust:

        • Fosters loyalty and motivates the desire to contribute to sustaining relationships.
        • Creates a sense of belonging; we feel we’re in the right place with the right people and we feel happy.
        • Helps our brains to work at their best because we feel relaxed and in a non-threatened state.

        Building trust in relationships starts by being trustworthy and trusting yourself. Self-trust matters because if we don’t trust ourselves, why should anyone else? It’s about believing in who we are or what we are doing, so others feel safe to do the same.

        How to Build Better Connections

        Volunteering

        Doing something for someone else or your community is a great way to feel part of something worthwhile and meaningful, and volunteering your time can help forge new social bonds.

        At work, volunteering can be a great way to mobilise your team or department to work together, whether fundraising for a particular charity or donating time to help those in need. It’s a great way of building greater social cohesion in the workplace and the community at large.

        We benefit so much from the joy of a rich and full social network, which is why it’s so important we all start now to help create greater human connection.

        Contact

        Email

        jenny@drjennybrockis.com

        Phone

        +61 (0) 408 092 078

        Lets talk

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