Creating an environment to gain rich feedback that allows you and others to thrive with healthy feedback loops of critical information takes more than surface gestures.
At 17 and lying in intensive care after being critically injured by a car accident, I overheard the statement, “The other driver never even saw her”. The visceral reality of what it must feel like to feel invisible landed deep in my core and I realized how important it was to look at people and allow them to know they had been seen. Consequently, when I finally returned to school, I made a more concerted effort to make eye contact, smile at everyone, say hello more easily, nod my head in recognition of others, and visually ‘reach out’ more than I ever had before. Yes, people knew who I was and I was in a lot of outside activities, yet, I may have been the loneliest person at that school. Why? I wasn’t actually engaging with others past the smile. It never occurred to me that smiling wasn’t enough.
In studies of emotional affect at work, the research ranges from how smiling – even when you don’t feel like- has a positive effect on your own mood and that of others. A basic fake it ‘til you make it mentality IF smiling is not a leap away from your true mood (Grandey, 2003). Smiling at others matters too, as it is also a coping mechanism that can combat stress (Banos, Etchemendy, Carrillo-Vega, Botella, 2016); however, smiling may not be enough to entice others to actually engage with you past their return smile, wave, nod of acknowledgement. Why?
Acknowledging others is a communal gesture of inclusion. However, it is only surface deep unless an additional effort is made to enter a conversation. A quick ask and receive of ‘how are you doing?’ may also not be enough either as we have all just said, “fine, great, doing OK” in a quick response to continue walking down the hall and not disturbing our own agenda. So what is enough to get others to share, feel connected, and invest in another’s welfare? To un-isolate your life?
Next time you see someone and have the chance to ask them a question (sometimes you don’t), don’t stop just at asking, ‘how are you doing?’ Ask another question that means their relationship to you is more personal, such as, ‘did you watch a game or movie this weekend that you would recommend?’; ‘If you were forced to recommend a book right now, what would you offer?’; ‘Have you found a new favorite musician or You tube video that you like?’; you get the drift.
Connect, not just acknowledge, others. It raises your game in every way. Even if you don’t intend to have a personal relationship outside of work, such as in a social setting, this creates more open attitudes around working with you, which can elevate collaboration, productivity, connecting ideas, empathy, basic decency towards one another, and lay the foundation to create positive feedback loops. And this is where we all want to be. So don’t just smile, ask better questions, reach out and get to know someone.
The bonus!! This will make your mind work more creatively when thinking of questions to ask, improve your memory of others with these unique details, and open the door for others to reach out and connect back with you. You will be making other people feel not only seen, but feel they matter too.
Baños, R. M., Etchemendy, E., Carrillo-Vega, A., & Botella, C. (2016). Positive Psychological Interventions and Information and Communication Technologies. Integrating Technology in Positive Psychology Practice, 38.
Grandey, A. A. (2003). When “the show must go on”: Surface acting and deep acting as determinants of emotional exhaustion and peer-rated service delivery. Academy of management Journal, 46(1), 86-96.