What you choose changes you.
We are confronted with many choices everyday. We select when to get up, what we wear, eat, and what we do. We decide what our priorities are, what needs to be done and who are our friends will be. While we can sometimes feel that life happens to us, we choose many of the details. Possibly the most important thing we do is decide where our attention is placed. What we listen to, look at, and understand. These choices have consequences.
For example, it is popular urban legend that men go deaf when they have a tv remote in their hands. They block their wives pleas, questions, and requests. It is indisputable that men tune out women voluntarily when watching sports. The inevitable and predictable ire that comes from our impatient partners was a matter of choice. :)
Anyway, let's look at what appears to be an innocuous decision--where to sit in the office lunchroom. Shall I sit with my three buddies or at a larger table where I don't know many or any of the people? C'mon John, why would this matter--it's just lunch!!
Again, we make thousands of decisions based on gut feelings, reflexive thought, and sheer habit. The truth is we don't think, we choose without thinking. As the neuro-scientists say, we use the neural pathways not the brain.
Back on my question: Sit with a few friends or join the larger less familiar table?
The research shows that even this choice has truly unexpected consequences.
"We found that the people who sat at the larger tables had substantially higher performance," observes social scientist Ben Waber. This is because they had created a much bigger network to tap into. Over the course of the week, they saw the same people again and again. Consequently, they often knew what these colleagues were working on and could go to them if they had a problem. The employees at the smaller tables, on the other hand, had smaller networks and less opportunity to interact.
In fact he and his colleagues found that people who consistently chose the larger tables had up to a 25% increase in happiness and productivity!
One of the tallest soap boxes I stand on is to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone. To question your habits by paying attention to your choices. To choose the new. Choose the different. Choose the adventure over the same ole same ole. Networking is a lifestyle of choices. You choose to build and strengthen your community of connections to help each other--to pursue your common goals.
Many longitudinal studies show that you will live longer if you have a more diverse--meaning diverse perspectives--network.
The diversity within your network also matters, the research team discovered. Waber found that people tend to spend time with those who are similar to them. "Whether it's gender, race or the school you went to, there are many different ways we break ourselves into groups."
Branch out and talk to people in groups you wouldn't normally talk to, suggests Waber. It doesn't have to be through a formal mechanism. "It can be through bumping into people by the coffee machine. Just standing there and chatting gives you new perspective. Our research shows that chance encounters make people more effective."
It's kinda obvious. When you connect with people at work beyond your circle and your department, you develop a larger network of resources at work. You learn what is going on and how to get things done. When you are more connected you know more and you care more. In short, you are on a path of increasing your confidence and broadening your influence. And by the way, your connections are not only changing you, they change the lives of the people with whom you are connecting. The combination of your greater performance and visibility will speak volumes about you. And how do you think this will help your career?
Next time you enter the lunchroom, the Boardroom, a reception, a cocktail party or a family event--choose to mix it up. Choose to connect with people you don't know and people different than you. And don't forget the people you know but don't know! Pay attention, get uncomfortable and engage the people around you.
Your conscious choices have consequences. Need some incentives? You will live longer and do better at work!
Your choices will change you.
Thanks for reading. John