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  • Tamar Balkin

Can’t I Just Hibernate? Are Authentic Relationships That Important For My Wellbeing?


Regular readers will be aware that one of the key elements of wellbeing is authentic relationships. To be really beneficial to our social contact needs to be varied, interesting, and meaningful. This week I was chatting to a client who has just started a new job as a CFO about the importance of forming strong connections with the people within his peer group, team and the broader organisation. The conversation reminded me of a study undertaken at the University of Kansas which, measured  at how many hours it takes to make a friend. Here are some of the interesting findings:

  • it takes about 50 hours of socializing to go from acquaintance to casual friend,

  • an additional 40 hours to become a “real” friend,

  • and a total of 200 hours to become a close friend.

The researchers found, not surprisingly that good relationships require:

  • Understanding- I understand what is important to you

  • Validation – I respect you and what you want

  • Caring- I take active steps to help you meet your needs. 

But it wasn’t just about the time spent together, “The quality of our conversations determines the quality of our relationships … Dr Sean O’Connor The researchers found that time together didn’t automatically make two people friends. Some adults reported spending hundreds of hours with colleagues, but still called those people acquaintances. Basically, they just didn’t like them very much. Or they had no relationship outside of work. This takes us to an important point. How people spent their time and what they talked about affected how close they became. “When you spend time joking around, having meaningful conversations, catching up with one another, all of these types of communication episodes contribute to speedier friendship development,” Hall says. As an example, he describes the common situation in which two casual friends bump into each other, and one asks the other: "What’s been going on in your life?" “That action is meaningful because it says that whatever is happening in your life I want to bring into the present in my relationship with you,” says Hall. “Consider how many people you don’t bother to ask. You wander into the office and you say, hey. That’s it.” But hang on.. we are social distancing… How do we keep our social connections strong deep and varied when our worlds are becoming smaller? Let's start with you and your team:  1. I'm sure you are all holding regular group and individual catch ups with three aims:

  • information

  • social interaction

  • wellbeing check

2. Try an encourage a visual medium for connection. Remind you staff as I have been telling all my clients, children walking behind them or babies crying, means they are being good citizen and social distancing so it’s positive. 3. Provide more recognition, praise and encouragement than usual, celebrate all success and positivity. A few things to think about with meetings:  (beyond the tips in my previous blog)

  • Make them regular

  • Set up some rules ie everyone on video

  • Take time to check in with everyone

  • Only tackle one or two challenges per meeting

  • Be very thoughtful about when you raise issues and how you talk them through

  • Over time people will develop the muscle of remote work

Other ways to connect beyond formal meetings:

  • Chatter: Fun apps like enable a chat like you may have in the office.

  • Do fun things together: eg virtual Friday drinks, relaxed team lunches once a week, remind them to keep up the informal work groups they are currently part of just hold them virtually.

Some special groups to keep an eye on and make extra contact. 1. The middle managers:  They  are  always the “meat in the sandwich” and more so under these conditions, keep an eye out for them and pay them extra attention. 2. The people who have to go in to work: There are a few critical roles that fit into the government guidelines that need to go into the office. Firstly, check if people really need to go in and how safely they are going in. I have a client who went remote early on because of the risks on public transport. Once you are certain that some people do have to go into the office, then remember. They will feel lost, they need contact and communication- they may be more anxious as they need to be at risk and everyone else is safe at home with their families. Try to not  allow sub groups to grow too much,  you need to make a psychological oneness amongst the group.  Those who are home need to make contact with those who aren’t and thank them.  3. The customer external stakeholders etc: Don’t forget them, make coffee catch ups as usual. Relationships beyond work:  1. Your significant other/ partner spouse etc: The “date night” is more important now than at any other time. Yes you will have to be a bit creative, but chances are you share your life with someone whom means a lot to you, with whom you share many interests, not just binging on Netflix 2. Friends and family: don’t forget to make virtual coffees and lunch arrangements during work time. You used to take a lunch break when you were in the office so don’t forget to sit away from your desk, call or face time a friend and ‘meet’ them for lunch. (Re read my blog if you need a reminder on the importance of lunch) Use some of your ‘spare’ time in this quieter period to reconnect with the key people in your life. In many ways it’s an ideal time to invest in your personal relationships.  3. Your tribes: Remember all the the groups you are normally  a part of  keep them going via video calls but ensure that the chats are mostly on topic, so if you are in a book club, maybe meet more often and discuss your books not corona. If your soccer team doing  on line training  allow time at the end for chatting like you would normally. So, what is the plan for my client? He is setting up virtual coffees and lunches with people within his organisation, and with key stakeholders. Whilst he is not going to interrogate anyone, he will leverage off his strong emotional intelligence skills to find out the following types of things about everyone he chats to:

  • Their purpose in work and life

  • What excites them about their job/ and the firm?

He may also use the following questions as prompts:

  • What matters to you?

  • What is the best thing that has happened to you in the last two years?

  • What is something you have wanted to do for a long time and why haven’t you done it

Finally, he is mindful that in times of stress, most people don’t process information as effectively, so he shall be careful keep his communications simple, clear and thoughtful. Remember not to let the physical aspects of social distancing stop you from nurturing all your important relationships.

References: Hall J.A. (2018) How many hours does it take to make a friend? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 36 ( 4,) 1278-1296

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