4 Strategies to Expand Your Human Social Network to do Bigger, Bolder Work

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I don’t know about you, but I live in my head. As a child, my family chided me for staying to myself for days on end. In my bedroom with the door closed. Listening to music. Daydreaming. Journaling. Building things with match sticks. Playing with my big bag of army men. I have always been comfortable alone. Sitting still with my thoughts got hardwired into me at a young age.

What about you? Do you live in your head?

Today, we can’t quite get away with that way of being if we want to be successful in the workplace. Regardless of what your definition of success might be, flying solo for the entire journey is not enough to get you there, especially in your work life.

In the modern world of work we need one another even more than before. Networks at work help us get projects done and fulfill our personal goals as well as those of the company.

But how can we innovate and contribute when we either live in our heads or commune with the same cohort all the time?

In her TEDx talk, Tanya Menon, Associate Professor in the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University offers three practically painless ways to expand your social network. And it’s not doing the things you typically think of in our digital Social Media age.

Professor Menon’s talk reflects past research done on weak ties by American sociologist and Stanford University professor Mark Granovetter.

In today’s world, the term “social network” most likely conjures scenes from the movie that dramatized the backstory of Facebook versus real human connections. As Professor Menon illustrates, we are creatures of habit. Our social networks of the human kind include the same routines and people, even at work. Now if you identify as an introvert, like me, it’s possible or maybe even probable that your circle of outside influence is even smaller.

However, if you desire to impact your on-the-job-performance, co-workers, department, and company at large, you need steady doses of different. And this doesn’t happen from ruminating your own thoughts or hanging with the same cohort you always associate with and never branching out.

Why?

Because we typically gravitate to others like us.

Result?

No diversity of thought.

This means we, and our cohort, look at a problem through the same prism and therefore our thought processes yield the same results. Contrast that scenario with tapping into the perspectives of someone outside your usual circle. It’s very possible that viewing things through a different lens would produce a different perspective than someone who is innately the same as you, therefore yielding very different results.

You may be saying to yourself “Okay, Thomas, I dig it. This message resonates with me. So, how do I start?”

Truthfully, you’ve already begun. Change cannot occur in the absence of awareness, so then, awareness is the first step. Congratulations! You just accomplished the first step by becoming AWARE of a new angle to improve your performance.

Just as Professor Tanya Menon’s article triggered awareness in me, hopefully, this article has in turn done the same for you.

Another tip is to survey your job. If you mingle with the same people all the time, that may be an indication that it’s time to expand your human social network at your workplace.

Here’s the beautiful part. It’s easy to expand your network (with practice) and you can take increasingly progressive steps to build an ever-larger one.

In real ways, that young boy I described in the opening of this article accompanies me in every daily interaction. I’ve just learned to make him sit quietly while I go about my day.

Here are five strategies I’ve personally begun using to expand my human social networks. I invite you to investigate them to empower yourself to do bigger, bolder work.

Strategy #1: Smile. I know. I know. You’re thinking, dude, too dang simple. Check out this article that explains how researchers were able to attach monetary value to showing your pearly whites.

Take away: the social currency of a smile has a dual effect on the payer and payee. If your project mate gets payment from you, it greases the cogs of collaboration. Without collaboration, bigger and bolder work is not possible.

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Strategy #2: Step into your discomfort. Professor Menon says be “courageous in your outreach”. Discomfort is uncomfortable (can I get away with writing that?) as creatures of habit we cling to similarity.

To break out of this autopilot mode, start small. For example, when you step on an elevator, say good morning. No one may respond. That’s okay. Remember, you are practicing.

Stretch your discomfort further. The next time you see a panhandler, give them some spare change (no judgement, you’re exercising your empathy muscles here).

Go big and bold. After giving a few bucks a few times to a few panhandlers, the next time you do it, ask them their name and share yours.

Take away: practicing giving, along with sympathy and empathy, when there is no judgement attached activates a different part of your being (try it, and you’ll see what I mean). I think we can all agree that giving and receiving empathy, a key part of emotional intelligence, is like breathing fresh air. When you live it, empathy pays dividends to all involved parties.

Strategy #3: Motivate others. When you interact with your team members, proactively look for ways to compliment their work. This will motivate them. Professor Menon reveals key conversational phrases you can use to strengthen your relationships.

What I’m getting at is actively showing up in the world as a positive versus negative force.

Take away: We all like positive people. We shun negative people. To do bigger, bolder work we need others on our teams. We can begin to activate exceptional work through positive compliments resulting in motivation. Your reputation as a positive project collaborator could make the difference between a stalled project, and one that exceeds all its metrics.

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Strategy #4: Instead of emailing, call. Digital communication is easy to hide behind, especially when you need to have a tough conversation. We all do it, even with routine discussions. I’m not suggesting you completely stop emailing because, when used properly, email is an efficient communication medium. Instead of emailing geographically dispersed co-workers, though, initiate a call to them.

If you tend to always email, break up your communication routine with a phone call. If you already call, break things up with a video call from time to time.

While you have them on the line, comment on more than just work. Ask about their family or vacation travel, and then just listen. Stop everything else you’re doing and just listen, it’s an art.

Take away: Paying attention to how you communicate with others sets you apart. As a society, we don’t listen with attention (I am definitely guilty of this). And when you offer this precious gift to another, most people will notice it, and having offered your attention paints you in a marvelous light.

Expanding your human social network emboldens bigger, bolder work. More importantly, it changes you as a person. These five strategies forge a better version of you. I’m on this journey too, so feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn to share your progress, and I’ll share mine.

Thank you Professor Tanya Menon, for gifting the world with your TEDx talk and article 3 practically painless ways to expand your network.

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Thomas Harrell
Thomas Harrell’s tagline for the learning function at Master Electronics is “Helping you. Learn. Grow. Master!” His responsibilities include learning content design, creation, delivery, LMS administration, and learning & development strategy, as Talent Development Specialist reporting to the company President. He loves making relevant professional connections, you can find him on LinkedIn.