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Socializing at Work – For Fun and For Profit

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Unless you are self-employed, working remotely, and have no employees—and no clients—you are going to interact with other people. The way you interact and the way you feel about yourself in social situations is your social self. Social interaction (defined as love and belonging) is one of the most important basic needs of people, according to the classic hierarchy of needs. The social self strives for a sense of belonging.


How to Support the Social Self

Psychologists  believe that the social self is influenced by how others view us (the looking-glass self), including the labels they put on us (labeling bias) and the labels we adopt ourselves (self-labeling); by comparison with others (social comparison); by the groups we belong to; and by the way we present ourselves to others. 

Therefore, if your goal is to promote the sense of belonging in yourself and your team, barbeques in your backyard provide only a minor contribution, particularly if communications are already strained. More important are the daily interactions that:

  • Reassure others you view them favorably (“I appreciate the effort you put into this”).
  • Avoid labeling, either positive (“she’s our go-to person”) or negative (“he’s always complaining”); any labeling one can make a person feel boxed in and only partially seen.
  • Guide others in re-thinking their self-labels (“I always mess up”).
  • Avoid negative comparisons with other teams or other team members (“why can’t you show initiative like Jack?”)
  • Encourage appropriate displays of self-esteem and confidence.

In some cases, self-labels in particular may be so deeply imbedded and so negative that outside help is necessary in overcoming them. 


Positive Socializing at Work

The following well-documented and researched truths guide social interactions at work that are positive, productive, and aligned with the culture:

  • Most employees learn from their fellow employees, about both the company culture and job responsibilities. Therefore, a team leader should make sure that new employees are integrated positively into the existing team as quickly as possible.
  • Recognizing other people’s emotions leads to smoother interactions and better decisions. When your decisions take account of how other people react—and when you treat their reactions respectfully—you are more likely to get valuable information and support.
  • Forcing employees to show certain emotions stresses them and leads to burnout. The customer may always be right, for example, but not everyone has the ability to empathize with angry customers. Emotional intelligence can be fostered but not forced. 
  • Face-to-face interactions are less volatile. People tend to over-estimate their ability to convey emotions by email, voice mail, and even video. Small misunderstandings easily escalate. 
  • Including people increases their sense of belonging. Nothing dampens a person’s enthusiasm faster than when they are excluded from a meeting or decision that directly affects them.
  • Social interactions can be fostered at work by a relaxed leader and a workplace that provides employees with time and room to interact and incentives to collaborate.
  • Work friendships are an important factor in reduced turnover, higher productivity, and innovation, because belonging and collaboration promote all three of those goals.
  • Encouraging too much socializing can be costly, if the entire team becomes embroiled by one member’s divorce, for example; the objective is an upbeat, enjoyable work atmosphere that is inclusive and respectful, not a gossip and drama mill.

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