Sunday, May 10, 2009

Social Support

Wow, it has been a LONG time since my last blog entry. The end of the semester is crazy busy. That’s an excuse, I know, but I’m sticking to it.

The fifth intentional activity from The How of Happiness is developing social support. Recall from my earlier blog that it’s these intentional activities and habits that can account for as much as 40% of our happiness. The first intentional activity was expressing gratitude, the second was deliberate optimism, the third was to stop overthinking and comparing ourselves to others, and the fourth was practicing acts of kindness.

Developing social support means having an adequate stock of people that you can call on to help in times of need and stress. There is a large body of research that shows it is one of the most effective coping mechanisms available. We can get social support from friends, family, colleagues, supervisors, subordinates, professionals (e.g. our doctor), or spiritual advisors (e.g. our minister).

And the relationship between friends and happiness is reciprocal. People with friends are more likely to be happy; likewise, happy people are more likely to have friends. We are most likely hard wired to seek out and maintain strong, stable, and positive interpersonal relationships.

Here are a few suggestions for developing friendships:

· Make time. Be available to others so you can offer support and encouragement if needed. Consider creating rituals (e.g. coffee breaks, lunch) where you can get together and stay in touch on a regular basis.
· Communicate. Be a good listener, but don’t neglect sharing of yourself. Be transparent with no hidden agenda and nothing to hide. If asked, be prepared to give your honest opinion.
·Watch your motives. There is no substitute for caring. We trust people that have our best intentions in mind. When we have a chance to influence others, it will always come down to a choice between favoring our self-interest or the interest of others. Over time, our words and deeds paint a very clear picture of us and people can tell if we do or do not care.

In my opinion, while it is good to be friendly with everyone at work, I think we should develop most of our closest friendships outside of work. This is especially important as we assume the privilege of leading others. The best leaders consult a wide variety of people – friends as well as foes – before making important decisions, and they do the right thing regardless of what their friends might think.

We have to be caring and authentic while remaining absolutely fair. Impressions are powerful, and even the slightest impression that we might play favorites at work can undermine our credibility.

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