A different room

07 Jul 2015

A different room

Last week, most of my friends on Face book added the rainbow filter to show their support for marriage equality. I followed suit. I noticed very few of my friends did not change their profile pictures. How did my friends and I get so similarly oriented? It made me wonder: Did Facebook users actually influence their friends, or had they selected friends who already shared their views?

We define a friend as someone who shares our values and interests. That, after all, is the basis for a harmonious relationship, trust and respect.

Look around you. Look at your friends. They are either classmates from school or college, or colleagues from work, or people in your neighborhood. And they all mirror your values and interests. Over a period of time, you and your friends start to merge and become one collective consciousness. This is wonderful. It promotes a kind of wordless understanding. But there is a flip side to it. You become insulated from having your opinions challenged. And sometimes, that impedes growth.

Have you considered having a friend who criticizes you constructively, shoots down your bright ideas and questions your philosophy of life? It’s hard isn’t it? You would consider such a person an antagonist, not a friend. And yet, it is these people who make us think, learn, change and grow. Because they do not see us through the blinding filter of affection. They see us for what we are: lazy or unambitious or judgmental.

One of my friends has very strong opinions on etiquette. She is very vocal about people with bad manners. She has another friend who is just like her. When they get together, they have a hearty time running down everyone in the world. On one level, this is therapy. But if they keep hanging out with each other, they start legitimizing, even stoking each other’s anger. That can be unhealthy in the long-run and severely limit each one’s growth.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, he references sociologist Mark Granovetter’s classic study about connectors. The research shows it is our acquaintances, not our close friends, who introduce us to new ideas and opportunities. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Your friends are in the same circle as you, and hence are exposed to the same ideas. But growth comes from the ‘weak ties,’ the people who belong to different circles than yours.

If we nurture our weak ties, if we plunge into unfamiliar situations, our chances of finding what we want and growing become much larger. Mark Granovetter even showed that people were 58% more likely to get a job through their weak ties than their strong ties.

Hence we need to focus on the weak ties, rather than nurturing the strong ties whose perspectives are already the same as ours. This means networking, knowing more diverse people and engaging with them genuinely. Friends who mirror your beliefs are important. But find people who challenge you too, who are even better than you. If you’re the smartest person in the room for too long, you need to move to a different room.

About the Author:

Sandhya Reddy is a leadership & transformation coach based in Bangalore, India. She is the Founder and Principal Coach at Chapter Two Coaching, a coaching consultancy that enables everyone from CEOs to work-from-home parents to achieve their goals by replacing self-imposed limitations with enabling stories.

Many of us in our thirties experience a disquieting realization: what brought us to middle-management may not take us to senior-management. This is true. To chart a new career path, one needs to think and do things differently. This is where Sandhya can help. She is a coach. Life coaching, executive coaching, business coaching, personality development, leadership coaching… they are all part of her forte. Her Executive coaching programs helps tomorrow’s leaders set new goals, make new plans to achieve those goals, get that elusive promotion through a blend of knowledge, action and image-building, enhance influence among the leadership team, be more productive, get more out of one’s team, and be known in the company as an indispensable performer and future leader.

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