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Facing a Crisis? – Tap into Your Greatest Resource

When you are facing a crisis, do you know what your greatest resource is? In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor presents research to suggest that it is the quality of our social support networks, i.e., our personal relationships, that are our greatest resource. How do we know relationships matter so much to our happiness and success? Achor quotes findings from a number of psychological studies that looked at the factors that distinguished the happiest and most successful people from those who identify as least happy and successful. In each study, he reports that the happiest and most successful people are predicted by the strength of their social relationships.

He also suggests that when we are dealing with challenges, our tendency is to turn away from other people, rather than investing more in our relationships. We buckle down, stay in our homes or offices and work even harder on the tasks at hand. We stop taking brakes and stop doing activities where we interact with other people. What does that mean? When we are most challenged and stressed, we stop relying on our greatest resource- our family, friends, co-workers and community.

How might the quality of our personal relationships impact us so powerfully? Achor suggests that during our workday, each positive social interaction an employee has during the day helps to bring their cardiovascular system back to resting levels, making them less stressed and more productive. He also cites a study that suggests that the stronger our personal relationships are, the less likely we are to perceive a situation as stressful, allowing us to cope better with challenging circumstances.

Here are some simple strategies that we can use to build or strengthen our social supports at work:

  • Make eye contact with co-workers.
    When we make eye contact with another person, we trigger the empathy and rapport circuits in our brains, which help us build stronger relationships
  • Invest and strengthen existing relationships. Take the time to stop and talk to someone, ask how they are doing, have a non-task orientated conversation
  • Have face-to-face interactions.
    Stop by someone’s office, rather than picking up the phone or emailing them.
  • Learn something new about a co-worker e.g., their interests, hobbies.
  • Don’t forget about supporting someone in response to their good news.
    New research has shown that offering support in response to someone’s good news may matter more than supporting them when they are being challenged.
    Specifically, be enthusiastic and curious in offering support to good news a co-worker shares, as this active support and interest is what will strengthen relationships.
  • Take the time to be with someone, even if the interaction is short, give them your full attention.
  • Build a socially invested team. Help employees get to know each other on a personal level, help them make connections, building mutual respect and authenticity.

Finally, on a personal level, this information led me to think about personality types and how this information can be applied to different types of people. I am an introvert and am quieter and shyer. The same actions that would work for someone who is more extroverted, won’t feel comfortable to me. But rather than give up and retreat to my office, I have thought about what I can do to strengthen relationships in my life. I have found it helpful to focus less on what I should do to build relationships, which can feel intimidating; instead focusing on how I can increase someone else’s happiness and belonging by reaching out to them, which to me feels like a valuable service. So I encourage you to think about how your own personality style fits with these ideas and adapt them for yourself. It can be easy to forget, but we are all in this together.

Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Business.