The Relationship Audit
There are three words that have been used to sum up the entire field of positive psychology, uttered by the late, great psychologist, Chris Peterson:
Other people matter.
The research has very much found that our well-being inextricably intertwined with the ways in which we are connected to the world.
The biologists David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson have argued that human beings evolved not only at an individual level, but at a group level: choosing actions that enhance altruism and harmony within the group are also selected for over time, as social groups are able to cooperate and put the needs of the group first in order to survive. Once we are in a group, our emotional states - like happiness - actually spread through our social networks, all the way up to their third degree connections.
From infancy, we cling to our mothers for comfort (or whatever might be closest to a mother, as you can see in Harlow's famous monkey experiment); when we are toddlers, we generally retreat to our mothers under any unfamiliar or stressful circumstances. We cultivate attachment styles in our youths that influence our dyadic relationships in the years to come and once married, we tend to be happier and live longer than single adults.
Research has found that the probability of dying early is 20% higher for obese people, 30% higher for excessive drinkers, 50% higher for smokers, but 70% higher for people with poor social relationships.
To sum it all up, your positive relationships really matter. So, what can you do to help facilitate greater flourishing through your relationships?
There are so many potential ways that one can go with this question, given the vast array of relationships that an individual might cultivate in their life. I'm going to specifically address your relationships in the workplace and the way in which you can create the conditions for more flourishing in your working life.
What Are High-Quality Connections?
High-quality connections (HQC) are defined as short-term positive interactions; they have specifically been studied in the workplace, but can be embodied in any interaction. Any interaction can be high-quality if an individual chooses that they would like it to be so. They are characterized by their brevity, by the fact that any single moment of interaction between any single human can be one that is meaningful, positive, or elevating.
The video below demonstrates this in action.
And that's the really weird thing. Yes, Richard puts the people in these poses, but the sentiment that seems to shine through is real -- at least so say the subjects.
At first, Brian Sneeden, a poetry teacher, saw no rhyme or reason for posing with 95-year-old retried fashion designer Reiko Ehrman, but eventually he, too, felt a change.
"I felt like I cared for her," Brian says. "I felt like it brought down a lot of barriers."
Pretty much everyone shared that same sentiment. "It was a good feeling," says Dominek Tucker. Adds Jenny Wood: "And it was nice to feel that comfort."
"Everyone seems to come away with kind of a good feeling," Richard says. "It's kind of lovely. It's lovely."
There are some specific qualities that characterize a HQC:
- A feeling of being uplifted or vitality
- A sense of positive energy
- A feeling that you are cared for or positively regarded
- Physiological changes
And aside from these in-the-moment positive qualities, there are some longer term benefits, too, including:
- Positive impact on the cardiovascular and immune systems (Heaphy & Dutton, 2008)
- Forming attachments to organizations (Blatt & Camden, 2007)
- Developing and growing as people (Ragins & Verbos, 2007).
- Associated with higher levels of psychological safety (a contributor to higher performance) within organizations (Stephens et al., 2011).
Cultivating High-Quality Connections
Jane Dutton, a psychologist at the University of Michigan who has made the study of HQCs a major part of her career, identifies four specific pathways to building these types of connections.
These can occur in even the transactional moments that occur at many points throughout the day: paying for groceries, buying a movie ticket, thanking someone for their help, or making a phone call. Did you have any high-quality connections today? What did they look like? Why did they occur? How might you cultivate more of these connections in the future?
Your HQC Audit
One interesting exercise is to complete the high-quality connection audit, which is intended to help spark personal reflection and perhaps change your behavior depending on what you discover. Take a few minutes and write out your answers to the following questions.
- Who are the people in your life with whom you consistently have HQCs?
- What patterns do you notice?
- Who is missing from your list?
- What are the implications?
Want to take it even further? One way to help cultivate these connections is to practice appreciation and gratitude for those high-quality connections in your life, another powerful contributor to individual well-being. One strategy that Dutton recommends is to look for people in your life who are task-enabling you at work, which is the practice of helping or facilitating another person's performance.
This video epitomizes task-enabling:
After you've wiped the tears from your eyes, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is task-enabling me right now?
- Do the people who are enabling me know that their enabling is making a difference? If they do, put a star next to their name. (You might be surprised to see how few stars actually show up.)
- How might you let them know that what they are doing is valuable and matters to you?
One of my favorite words is heliotropic. It means the tendency of an organism to turn towards the sun. Sunflowers are notably heliotropic...
But I think that we are, too. We naturally blossom when other people shine their light on us - when they give us their full presence, offer us helping hands, listen, remain open, or share in our joy.
'How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.
Be a beamer. Beam your light on others and watch as your world transforms.