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Become a better person!

Nowadays many aim high and are willing to go over dead bodies to achieve their goals. I was guilty as charged. One fact became clear to me very recently though: The road to heaven is called altruism, whilst egoism leads you south. Why’s that? Well, here’s another ExperienceZone shot of wisdom.

What makes our world turn?

Humans are social beings. You can neither be successful nor contented without others. Trust me. I learned it the hard way. In addition to supporting each other on the way to success, being in company seems to be closely related to our collective mission. Let’s take a step back: We all want to be happy. That requires control over inner processes. These comprise thoughts, emotions and feelings. Thoughts are controllable to a certain extent by engaging in exercises, such as meditation. More powerful emotions and therewith resulting feelings are almost impossible to steer. They’re closely related to relationships we’ve with other people. If we feel physically or emotionally attracted to others, love emerges and subordinate positive feelings. If others scare us, fear creeps up and negative feelings. Bottom line: Love and fear are emotions others cause in us.

What do you need to do?

We all want to be love and be loved. This requires you to focus on two activity areas:

  1. Learn to love yourself. Folks only trust and love you as much as you trust and love your self. Essentially, others see you exactly as you see yourself – at least on a subconscious level. Your self-image represents the sum of your experiences until this moment. Latter are actually subjective perceptions filtered by your beliefs and tend to reproduce themselves. We strive for consistency. If you and your social network – especially your parents during childhood (mind other people) – tell you that you suck in math, you’ll most likely never become reasonably good in it (and maybe in no other natural science). If you learn to break this belief system though, sky is the limit if at all (mind Elon Musk). The first step is to know who you were, are and want to be. Run a personality analysis, check your attitudes and define your mission. Most importantly: Embrace the concept of self-determination.
  2. Care about other people. Today, someone who means a lot to me complained about not listening carefully. In fact, listening is a key skill in human interactions. We invented language to express our feelings, build up rapport and strengthen relationships. Give before you take. Listen before you talk. In conversations with others, I used to let my mind drift, since it was so busy with other unimportant stuff (mind the sand in the famous vase). Also, I would talk a lot instead of asking questions and really listening (rather than thinking about my response). This behavior is a recipe for social isolation. What do I need to change? Spend time with people – best case face-to-face quality time. Be sincerely interested in them. Reduce my air-time and let them share their views. Respect their opinions and focus on their strengths instead of calling out their weaknesses. Besides, if you talk, you only repeat what you already know. If you listen though, you can actually learn something. I’m on my way to become a better person. Are you?

How large is your social network?

It’s more about “who” you know than “what” you know. Especially, in the corporate world (some even argue it’s most important who knows you). Since we’re designed to only become truly happy in company, your social network is paramount – in working and private life. Hence, let’s dive into this the ExperienceZone way.

Tell me who you’re with and I tell you who you’re

Imagine us sitting around a fire and singing songs. Sounds romantic? Well, human beings have engaged in social events from begin of humanity. We’re social beings. Period. If you don’t believe me, go into a zoo and watch our closest relatives. Chimps are interacting with each other the whole day. Those who get isolated from a group become mentally and physically sick. Our brain produces endorphin once we’re getting down with others.

Not only in primal surroundings but also in business context, collaboration is the be all and end all. The higher the climb corporate ladders, your professional network becomes more important. As you emerge from an individual contributor to a leader, expertise is assumed to be a given, yet collaboration (or as you haters might put it “politics”) moves into the center of your daily work.

Bottom line, social interactions are paramount to your life. The people you engage with have an significant impact on your life and vice versa. That’s the reason why emotional intelligence is such a hot topic nowadays.

How do you optimize your social network?

Last night I was a first-timer at the Octoberfest in Munich. Met great people. Will stay in touch with some and not with others. How do I make these decisions? Here’re my recommendations:

  1. Check who you engage with. Sit down at a quiet place and write down who you know. I don’t mean your 1,000+ Facebook “friends” but the people you regularly (let’s say at least every quarter interact with). Bear in mind that this goes beyond Family & Friends and thus includes working colleagues and other acquaintances.
  2. Become selective. In case your list is longer than 50 folks, you want to separate the wheat from the shaft. Why? Your social network is about quality not quantity. Focus on win-win relationships (sorry for the consultant speak). How? As you go down the list, cross out those people, which neither support your mission and aims in life nor you can help them to accomplish theirs.
  3. Surround yourself with like minded people. As soon as you landed on a narrow and deep (rather than broad and shallow) network, reach out to those 20-30 folks left. Contemplate about what everyone wants to achieve in life and how you can help her. Since one of life’s golden rule is to give before you take, you want to check on how every one can help you to execute your plans thereafter. Finally switch into action gear and schedule touch points with those people (best case face-to-face interactions). Sounds over-systemic but works like a charm. Have fun!

Why communication is the glue of relationships

Human relationships are build on trust. Trust comes from frequent communication. Also, openness and honesty creates intimacy. Before engaging in more “duh, tell me something I don’t know” buzzword bingo, let’s dig into the roots of these truisms. Why is communication paramount to human relationships? I’ll explain it the ExperienceZone way.

Humans are gregarious and thus social beings

We’re designed to live in groups. In fact, our survival depended on the goodwill of others already in the stone age. Men went out to hunt together. They needed to rely on their fellows to make a kill instead of being becoming a prey. Tough times… Women gathered fruit and passed on knowledge from one generation to the other about which fruit & vegetables are eatable and therewith feed the family and which ones poison the hungry family members.

Since then the risks lurking on our life paths have certainly decreased, yet we still need other people to become successful – in private and professional life. Evidence can be found in the animal kingdom. Just go into a zoo and study our closest relatives. Apes interact which each other the whole day! Those being isolated from the group begin to suffer mentally, emotionally and physically (in this sequence).

Communication is the bridge between us

Similar to other higher developed species, humans developed body language and over time verbal communication. Meantime, we’ve invented hundreds of languages with thousands of words. The most sophisticated communication techniques ever created on this planet (probably in the entire universe). We even call one who speaks more than two languages a genius. Certainly not me, as my German and English are rather average… Anyway, the more complex our languages became, the better we were able to express our feelings, air our ideas or get our points across. Communication is therewith a tool to tell the other person about ourselves. Since this usually happens between two people or more (unless you’re talking to yourself, which too can be functional in certain situations), it’s at least a two way street: We listen to what Bob experienced on the weekend. We learn about him and his family spending time together. We can ask him to tell us more or catch the ball and elaborate on our leisure time activities. This way, we exchange personal information and build trust eventually. The more we talk to each other, the more information gets shared. The more gets shared, the better we get to know the other person and the more effectively we’re able to build rapport or enrich ideas.

The key ingredients of effective communication

Yeah, there’re countless books about communication. So I won’t drain you with the things you take for granted (yet might not apply in daily life). My intention is to make you reflect how you communicate at the moment and how you want to engage with others to become successful. Success in terms of communication is to get what you want. Verbal interaction always has the objective to be understood. In most cases it is about selling yourself and your ideas. How do you do this best?

  1. Know your style. This requires you to run a personality analysis. Now you might experience a deja-vu: “Hey, this guy almost always comes up with this first point!” Busted. Guilty as charged. Nonetheless is self-reflection an highly effective approach. Reason being, you need to know your natural communication tendencies before you can change them. The die-hard-continuum of all personal transformations is a) gain clarity about the current state (that usually starts with you as a person), b) define the target state and c) determine measures to get from where you are to where you want to be. Makes sense?
  2. Seek to understand. Listen before you speak. Why’s that important? The more information you get about the other person and her ideas, the more raw material for your response or decision, you’re able to gather. By the way: Just keeping your mouth shut is not listening (most people just use this break to already think about what they want to reply rather than really listen). Latter requires you to understand what the communication partner actually means. Meaning can differ from the words being said. So you need to be able to read between the verbal lines. The tonality, facial expressions and body language give you valuable clues about what moves the other person.
  3. Seek to be understood. Communication is about the listener. Don’t dump your ideas as fast as possible into someone else head. Instead, plant them with care. I recently talked pretty fast and in complex lingo about nutritional science.  What I received is raising eyebrows, which told me that my counterpart barely understood anything I wanted to get across. So, speak slowly and use terms which resonate with the other person. If you’re in doubt about the social style of the listener, I recommend simple words wrapped into short sentences. Enough said, em written, go out and practice to become a better communicator!

Who’s more important: Your family or friends?

A crucial question. You might scream: “Of course my family!” Maybe morally the most appropriate answer. Yet I recently read a study, which shows a different picture: Relationships to friends are for certain people more important than those to family members. Why’s that? Let’s dive into this one and extract implications for you in an ExperienceZone manner.

The rise of friendships

In the last decades, our world got more complex and seems to be spinning faster. Reason being technical and social developments. Whilst we worship individualism, we depreciate human relationships. This can lead to social isolation and depression. Former I felt in my early twenties, when I accomplished one personal goal after another yet disregarded my family & friends. Recognition led to reanimation of relationships, which fell asleep for some years.

Egocentricity often comes with efficiency. Four interesting phenomenons:

  1. Family members are perceived as necessary evil. “Ok, I’m tied to these guys since my parents made me and my siblings are of the same breed biologically. But that doesn’t mean that we need to spend time together. I don’t owe them anything. On top of that, familiar relationships don’t add value to my life per se.” Although I’m exaggerating, the traditional family model seems to be eroding in many parts of the world. The growing number of divorces, patchwork families and single households seem to be cause and result at the same time.
  2. Friendships satisfy the natural human need for social interactions. Like-minded people we know for many years or met along our life journeys are golden for goal-getters and ordinary opportunists alike. Women value their friends to have an open ear for emotional topics and men like to share hobbies with their buddies. Best case friends lift us up when we’re down, give us open and honest feedback as well as lend their clothes if we need a new dress though can’t afford to buy one.
  3. Communication channels depend on the geographical distance. When our friends live far away, we praise Skype and WhatsApp for engaging with them digitally. In case our friends live nearby, modern technology is perceived as a curse rather than the holy grail. Let’s meet face-to-face and talk things through!
  4. Soft-opposites attract. Similar to partners, we value friends with complementary personalities. Different world-views are being perceived as enriching. Yet if you’re a republican and I’m a democrat, chances are slim that we’ll go along for a long time.

Ergo, familiar relationships and friendships are different by nature

Let’s face it: Your family members cannot replace your friends and vice versa. Why should they? Instead of playing relationship quartet, leverage the upsides of both “institutions”:

  1. Appreciate the fact that you’ve a family. Be grateful towards your parents for producing you. Also, they’ve nurtured, raised and educated you. If you admit it or not: Your father and mother do have a huge stake in who you are today. Period.
  2. Select a few good friends. Those you can trust. People who inspire or even empower you. Folks who’ve skills you admire and who can teach you something. Soft-opposites if you want. Seek for a narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow circle of friends. Guilty a charged, I need to “clean” my 700+ facebook buddy list one day.
  3. Foster the relationships to family members and friends. Apply the trust formula. Use premium fertilizer as described in the countries social network, family and friends on ExperienceZone. Give first before you expect something in return. That’s what I call intelligent egoism.

How communities can make you successful

Picking up on the article Why are we happier in company than alone?, being in groups make us feel better yet also more successful. You are part of different communities. They represent groups of human beings established for various reasons. From large ones such as humanity, over society to small ones such as your neighborhood chess club.

Why are communities essential to our lives?

Evolutionary, we are gregarious animals. We found families and are committed to larger groups as well. In stone age, hunters went out together. They joined forces to circle the target and thus increased the probability to kill the animal. Gatherers too teamed  up. Younger members learned from older ones which fruit & vegetables are eatable and how to prepare them. Experiences and wisdom got refined as well as passed on for generations.

Why are you more successful in a group?

In contrast to many other species, human beings are able to learn from the experiences of others. Ok, this ensured survival. Yet is this also a receipt for success? Yes.

If you can build up on others’ experiences, say you learn from your peers that requesting a decision from your boss via mail doesn’t really work, you try to pitch her verbally. Since she’s apparently a listener rather than a reader, your ask might resonate with her and she might be more likely to take action upon it. Hence, building up on what doesn’t work is a great way to accelerate trial-and-error-loops.

Also, having a social network of experts allows you to tap into the common multiple of knowledge. This increases the chance that you get a better answer quicker than via conventional sources, such as your local library or even Google. You might be smarter than me but not smarter as us. The swarm intelligence is certainly a great lever of groups. I just read an article that especially open networks are a great success predictor. Of course, it is risky to engage with a heterogeneous bunch of people as you might be perceived as an outsider to many. On the flip-side the diversity bears huge opportunities of different ideas, viewpoints and knowledge you can utilize to accomplish your goals.

So, how do you best interact in communities?

Know which communities you belong to. Some memberships are for life, like your race (you cannot brush off your skin color). Others you can exit if they don’t support your aims in life. Therefore you want to check which ones are aligned with your mission. Then you can evaluate what you can contribute to their objectives and how they can help you. Engage with people who you admire and can learn from. Surround yourself with inspiring and empowering people. Yet know that you need to first give before you can ask for favors. Your gifts need to be high-quality. Become interesting to others! Finally, be aware that sheep-behavior can be dysfunctional at times where you want to be innovative. Always say what you think and stick to your guns. You are valuable because you and your opinion are unique.

Why are we happier in company than alone?

For many years I went through life with a helmet on my head, a shield in front of my chest, and a sword in my hand. Hell ya, I slayed a lot of dragons. Seen great places. Traveled almost the world. Been there done that. Being independent and successful is great. You don’t need to rely on anyone else. You accept full responsibility for yourself. You charge all failures and achievements on your own account. No one is holding you back…

Yet I experienced that we’re gregarious animals.

Ok, you might argue that we aren’t animals at all. Let’s not go down that road but agree that we’re not islands. Instead, we’re social beings. I learned it the hard way. After years of fighting outside dragons and inside demons, I recognized emptiness. Social isolation. Friends lived on their own lives. Got married. Children. It seems like nature designed us in a way that we generate happiness through social interactions. Prove can be found in the animal kingdom. Just go into a zoo and watch our closes relatives, apes, who’ve got a 98.5% genetic makeup match with human beings. These little guys engage in social interactions the whole day! They play games, they practice mutual physical hygiene, they sometimes fight, and have sex.

This world bears a gazillion of opportunities. Let’s take them together!

Learning and growing doesn’t only make more fun but is also more effective in a group. If you share experiences with others, you’ve something to talk about thereafter. It might sound corny, yet if you keep in mind that communication is the glue of relationships, you need to have subjects in store. Go into the park with your family, have a nice dinner with your partner, party with your friends, visit a playground with your children, and spend some quality time with your parents. Keep your solitude time to read, concentrate and design. Yet have regular touch points with the most important people in your social network every week.

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