At Meta we’re always interested in scientific research that backs up our own idea about how organisations work. Recently we were made aware of some really interesting research done in America on social networks, by the excellent author Dr David Hamilton.
During a recent seminar we attended Dr David Hamilton referred to ongoing research that shows that how we interact with others has a lasting and surprisingly big impact on others. This impact is what is known as the ripple effect. This quantum physics term essentially says that how we are in any interaction, has a positive or negative ripple outwards. The surprising thing is just how far that ripple ripples out!
How we are in all our interactions with others (e.g.: happy, sad, positive or negative) ripples outwards into our social network. Our mood is like a stone when dropped in a pond. It has an initial impact as it hits the surface and then that ripples outwards across the pond, and actually our mood can affect someone we’ve never even met.
In research done at Harvard University on a social network of 12000 people (that’s a real social network, not a Facebook one!) they tracked and measured how the mental health changed in individuals in response to mental health changes in their social network. There were some really interesting results! For example, if a friend of yours becomes depressed for any reason, it increases the likelihood that you will also become depressed by 93%. It works the same with happiness. A happy friend can increase the probability of you becoming happy by 25%, and a happy best friend can increase your likelihood by 63%! The fact is that we transmit our moods to those around us, in fact that ‘emotional contagion’ can be measured up to three steps away in your social network – that’s your friends’ friends’ friends! And you may not even know your friends’ friends’ friends’, but how you are has an effect on them!
Let’s just think about that for a moment in the work environment. Our workplace is also a social network. Everyday we interact with different people. Some are in our immediate sphere of influence, our own team, then there are those in the wider team, other departments, other management levels within the business, and then there are those outside of the organisation, our customers, and our business partners.
Many studies show that the success of teams is heavily influenced by the mood of one or two individuals, if a leader is happy, it can lift the mood of a team, and if they are sad or angry, it can lower the mood.
This leads us at Meta to think more deeply about this. To us, it seems there is a simple choice to be made, and yes, we always DO have a choice about this. Every day, remind yourself that actually every interaction is an opportunity to spread a positive contagion through your organisation.
Think about it, if you’re friendly and positive to a colleague, that has the potential to ripple outwards to not only them, but also their team, and anyone else that comes into contact with them through that day, up to three degrees of separation.
Let me put that into some figures for you.. Let’s say that there are 10 people that you are close to at work, and let’s say that each of those people have 10 people that they are close to, that’s already 100 people that you have the potential to effect positively, in only 2 degrees of separation! Now when you see it like that, you begin to realise that how we are at work really does make a difference!
So let’s get back to the most basic choice of all. What kind of ripple do you want to be? Do want to be a negative ripple or a positive ripple in your organisation? The research shows that actually the effect you will have will be pretty much similar, so if that were the case, why would any of us choose to be a negative ripple?
In the busy, pressured working environment that many of us find ourselves in these days, it’s sometimes easy to fire off that angry email, or perhaps chastise a team member or colleague in front of other people. And that is OK, as we are only human, and we’re not expecting you to be perfect here! We are just making you aware of the fact that how you are in EVERY interaction that you make, be it face to face, on a phone or indeed virtually via email, has an effect.
So think of the ripples you’re making. They are not just affecting those that you interact with, but also their work colleagues, their department, their customers, and even their family!
Oh yes, that ripple doesn’t just stay at work – it also comes home with us. Think about it, when you’ve had a bad day at work and you come home frustrated and angry, how does that mean you are with your family? Maybe you get a bit snappy with the kids or maybe you aren’t your normal loving self with your partner? This ripple effect thing is a bit of a bugger when you think about it!
At Meta we hope to be a positive ripple in the world of work. We believe that the most productive, effective and excellent teams and organisations are the ones that understand that these things do matter. They see the value in their interactions, and see every phone call, meeting, 1-1 or emails as an opportunity to spread a more positive, friendly ripple out into the world.
If you’d like to know more about the ripple effect and how it can help the culture and working practice in your organisation then get in touch, we’d love to talk to you more about it!
Have a great summer!
Jo and Di x