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Sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words cannot hurt me.

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Photo credit: By himself of a shopkeeper enjoying small talk with a customer in Naha, Okinawa, 2017

If social connections are important, useful even, why are we afraid of socialising?

May be we fear the social rejection of others. No wonder that public speaking is #1 fear most cited.

As I write this blog, one of my all time favourite coaches for creatives, Mark Mc Guinness has a blogpost, “Are you willing to be laughed at?”

Pain of social rejection

Cyberball Experiment 1
Reviewing Michael Liebermann ‘s book, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Emily Esfahani Smith reported an experiment involving a internet video game, Cyberball. Researchers (Liebermann and Naomi Eisenberger) put people in a brain scanner where three people toss a ball around to each other. Only one person is a real subject, the other two are pre-programmed avatars.  (The subject does not know this.)

The aim of Cyberball game was to make the player (the research subject) feel rejected. Initially, all three players toss the ball to each other in turn. But at some point, the avatars only toss the ball just to each other and cut the human research participant out of the game.

Interestingly, although the research subject never met the other players in this silly game, the research subjects were really hurt. They started feeling distress. They felt rejected. When they came out of the scanner, they kept talking to the researchers about how upset they were.

Is pain from social rejection real? Is it as real as physical pain?

Yes. The most interesting part of the study was how their brains processed the social rejection. To the brain, social pain felt a lot like physical pain—a broken heart can feel like a broken leg, as Lieberman puts it in his book. The more rejected the participant said he or she felt, the more activity in the part of the brain that processed the distress of physical pain.

Experiment 2
In a follow-up study, participants were again called into the lab and played Cyberball with a brain scanner. This time, there was a twist. Before they came into the lab, half of them had taken Tylenol every day for three weeks while the other half had taken a placebo.

What the researchers found was remarkable: the placebo group felt just as rejected and pained as those in the initial study, but “the people in the Tylenol group were immune to the social pain of feeling left out“.

A broken leg and a broken heart did not seem like very different forms of pain”. Researchers hypothesise that pain is a sign that something is wrong. “Social pain signals that we are all alone—that we are vulnerable—and need to either form new connections or rekindle old ones to protect ourselves against the many threats that are out there”.

Social pain may be a survival instinct because being low on status means last to enjoy spoils of the hunt.

In humans, researchers suggested, social pain can be relieved through forming attachments. In studies of rats and their pups, when mothers do not respond to the distress call, the pups often die within two days of birth.

Connecting with others

Maslow is wrong in the sense that there is no hierarchy in needs. Social connections are as important as the need for food, safety, and shelter. But as society prospers, our social connections weaken. Oftentimes, our social skills are left wanting, and we cause pain- both social and physical to our lives and others unwittingly.

Evolutionary, humans have learnt both to connect and to exclude others. We simply do not have the capacity to include everyone.

Social rejection can take the form of sniggering at another, to discrimination to outright bullying.

Could this be why depression and stress has increased?

Holidays are social events and also account for the highest suicide rates, because of another phenomenon, social rejection.

Can this fear of social rejection be unlearned?

1. Be proactive. Build Circles of Influence not circles of concer. (Stephen Covey’s Habit #1). A kind word a day, keeps the doctor away.

2. Living a meaningful life, does not have to be big as scaling a mountain. All muscles need to be exercised and built.

3. Pick up social skills. Invest in your tribe.

4. Hurting people hurt others. Forgive

5. Next time, someone hurts you socially or emotionally, don’t withdraw.

Connect.

Dig your well before you are thirsty.

Build status.

I enjoyed the article by  EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH and can’t wait to read her book on The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters.

Nature vs Nurture: Inside an introvert’s brains in a cocktail party

I facilitate a workshop at the local university on “networking skills”. Having worked with superb connectors, colleagues who were diplomats in the Foreign Service, and headhunting, I am aware how lacking I am in this area.  Which makes me humble to ask for advice from the experts and be an empathetic listener to students making their first steps into their career.

Why network?

Myth #1 Networking is only for insurance agents, real estate agents and sales reps

Many people don’t realise that even if you do not need to generate sales, networking is part of our work. Today, we do not work in isolation. As long as your work involves interacting with another person, you need to influence and persuade them to work with you. Job titles, job description or what is known as the Formal organisation, i.e. hierarchical chart, is only on surface.

I learnt this the hard way.  Working for a French company in Asia where the IT proprietary software was controlled out of France.  When IT problems arose with customers, my emails to the IT Coordinator in France often go unanswered. Not because he couldn’t speak English. Complaints to the French IT Director during his visits to Asia were to no avail. Until I asked my direct counterpart, PJ in France for help as intermediary. PJ, British, married to a French, 20 years veteran in the organisation would regularly have coffee with the IT department.  So when it was time to ask for a favour, she has amassed a reservoir of goodwill through regular coffee/ lunch sessions. This is what Max Weber termed the Informal organisation. Possibly the IT Director was amazed at my naivete to expect people to do the work because their job description said so. Elton Mayo in the Hawthorne experiment in 1950s discovered that workers were more responsive to the social force of their peers than to the incentives of management.

Myth #2 No time to network. I can’t even finish my work.

See Myth #1. Networking is part of your work. Ever wondered why your boss had no time to see your report? As a young officer, I believed in being respectful to the secretaries of my bosses.  We lunched. Many times, they have helped me beat the deadline by putting my report on the top of the in-tray for my boss or warning me to re-type a piece of work in the format boss preferred.  Malcolm Gladwell in his book ” Outliers” called them the gatekeepers. He had other terms for influencers in the organisation. The “sneezers” are those who report on office gossip ahead of the official circular, the “grapevine” where information is passed by word of mouth. Be careful not to share too much, as the sneezers can turn against you by broadcasting your woes and gossip to the rest of the organisation.

“Its not what you know, but who you know that matters”. All things being equal (ceteris paribus) the one with a better upward network gets the promotion.

Michael Watkins in “The First 90 days” advised that you may need to rework your network as your progress. In the early part of your career, you may want to cultivate people who are good technical advisers and help you get the work done. As you get promoted, it becomes important to get good political counsel and personal advice. The typical iceberg analogy can be used to understand the culture of the firm. Culture is the unseen, beneath the surface, and divided into organisational, professional and geographic and influences how people behave.

Myth #3 I’ve 150 friends on Facebook, and constantly networking via Twitter and social media sites

The size of your rolodex and the number of namecards you collect do not equal the size of your network. Notice patterns in your power circle. Too many relationships can overwhelm you.

Often HR Managers complain that their Gen Y consultants prefer to email clients/ customers instead of picking up the phone or meeting clients face-to-face. You need to “press the flesh”. Politicians understand this, and so shake your hands and carry babies during election time. Nothing beats “Face time” in developing rapport.

Drop by their office, spend some time with small talk. If you run into colleagues at the office pantry, exchange some pleasantries. Arrange to have lunch/ coffee together. As Keith Ferazzi would say, in his book by the same title “Never lunch alone“.  Your lunch/ dinner slots all filled out? As my boss in the Foreign Service would say, “how about breakfast?”

Myth #4 I’ve nothing to offer

Make a list of your personal strengths, accomplishments and eco-systems. The Bible says its better to give than to receive.  Step into the shoes of the other person, and help them identify a potential solution to their problem. We all have problems.  Always do what you say will do. Giving without strings attached usually is rewarded, in ways you do not expect. Don’t ask too soon.  http://paulcbrunson.com/2013/06/its-called-networking-not-using/

Add value to the other person (opportunities, information, money and connections). A quote attributed to Woody Allen, that 80 percent of success is showing up. I would agree with that for networking. Many of the clients have told me  that my showing up more often at their events, being offe with their issues increased my credibility.