Dunbar's number

The number of people with whom we can maintain a stable relationship is about 150, according to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He says: 

We devote around 40 percent of our available social time to our 5 most intimate friends and relations…and the remaining 60 percent in progressively decreasing amounts goes to the other 145.  

Friendship is the single most important factor influencing our health, well-being, and happiness. Creating and maintaining friendships is, however, extremely costly, in terms of both the time that has to be invested and the cognitive mechanisms that underpin them. Part of friendship is the act of mentalizing, or mentally envisioning the landscape of another's mind. Cognitively, this process is extraordinarily taxing, and as such, intimate conversations seem to be capped at about four people before they break down and form smaller conversational groups.  

Read more at the BigThink

It seems like..

Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss writes in Never Split The Difference, his manual of persuasive techniques, there are five stages in what’s known as the “behavioural change stairway model” that take anyone from “listening to influencing behaviour”. The first stage is active listening – namely, being able to show the other person that you have taken in what they’ve said and, more importantly, have a sense of what it means to them.  Rather than focusing on what you want to say, listen to what the other person is telling you, then try to repeat it back to them. Start with, “It seems like what you’re saying is” or “Can I just check, it sounds like what you’re saying is”. If that feels too contrived, it often works simply to repeat the last sentence or thought someone has expressed (known in counselling practice as “reflecting”).  What to say Try, “It seems like you’re feeling frustrated with this situation – is that right?” Always give the other person the opportunity to comment on or correct your assessment. 

Rosie Ifould writing in The Guardian 

Yes, but

“We all know the phrase ‘Yes, but’ really means ‘No, and here’s why you’re wrong’,” says Rob Kendall, author of Workstorming. A conversation expert, Kendall sits in on other people’s meetings as an observer. The phrase “Yes, but” is one of the classic warning signs that you’re in an unwinnable conversation, he says. “If you hear it three or more times in one discussion, it’s a sign that you’re going nowhere.”  Kendall advises shifting the conversation by asking the other person “What’s needed here?” or, even better, “What do you need?” “It takes you from what I call ‘blamestorming’ to a solution-focused outcome.”  

Rosie Ifould writing in The Guardian 

He Came… to Give

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. -Mark 10:45

When Jesus took the time to explain his reason for coming among us, he was simple and direct: to serve and to give. Not to be served. Not to grab the spotlight in the center ring. Not to make a name or attract attention or become successful or famous or powerful or idolized. 

Charles Swindoll, Improving Your Serve

Would you be Willing?

Elizabeth Stokoe, professor of social interaction at Loughborough University, and her colleagues, have analysed thousands of hours of recorded conversations, from customer services to mediation hotlines and police crisis negotiation. They discovered that certain words or phrases have the power to change the course of a conversation.

People who had already responded negatively when asked if they would like to attend mediation seemed to change their minds when the mediator used the phrase, “Would you be willing to come for a meeting?” “As soon as the word ‘willing’ was uttered, people would say: ‘Oh, yes, definitely’ – they would actually interrupt the sentence to agree.” Stokoe found it had the same effect in different settings: with business-to-business cold callers; with doctors trying to persuade people to go to a weight-loss class. She also looked at phrases such as “Would you like to” and “Would you be interested in”. “Sometimes they worked, but ‘willing’ was the one that got people to agree more rapidly and with more enthusiasm.”

Rosie Ifouldwriting in The Guardian 

The Value of Community

I used to think that community was as simple as having friends who bring a lasagna when things fall apart and champagne when things go well. Who pick up your kids from school when you can’t. But I think community is also an insurance policy against life’s cruelty; a kind of immunity against loss and disappointment and rage. My community will be here for my family if I cannot be. And if I die, my kids will be surrounded people who know and love them, quirks and warts and oddities and all.   

Jenny Anderson writing in Quartz

An expert on human blind spots gives advice on how to think

A lot of the issues or problems we get into, we get into because we’re doing it all by ourselves. We’re relying on ourselves. We’re making decisions as our own island, if you will. And if we consult, chat, schmooze with other people, often we learn things or get different perspectives that can be quite helpful.

An active social life, active social bonds, in many different ways tends to be something that’s healthy for people. Social bonds can also be informationally healthy as well. So that’s more on a top, more abstract level, if you will. That is, don’t try to do it yourself. Doing it yourself is when you get into trouble.

David Dunning quoted in Vox 

I Want Your Life

We all know what we see on Facebook or Instagram isn’t “real,” but that doesn’t mean we don’t judge ourselves against it. I find that millennials are far less jealous of objects or belongings on social media than the holistic experiences represented there, the sort of thing that prompts people to comment, I want your life. That enviable mix of leisure and travel, the accumulation of pets and children, the landscapes inhabited and the food consumed seems not just desirable, but balanced, satisfied, and unafflicted by burnout.

Posting on social media, after all, is a means of narrativizing our own lives: What we’re telling ourselves our lives are like. And when we don’t feel the satisfaction that we’ve been told we should receive from a good job that’s “fulfilling,” balanced with a personal life that’s equally so, the best way to convince yourself you’re feeling it is to illustrate it for others.

“Branding” is a fitting word for this work, as it underlines what the millennial self becomes: a product. And as in childhood, the work of optimizing that brand blurs whatever boundaries remained between work and play. There is no “off the clock” when at all hours you could be documenting your on-brand experiences or tweeting your on-brand observations. 

Anne Helen Petersen writing in BuzzFeed News

Seeking the Best is a Trap

We have this sense that there is an objective best, and in virtually no area of life is that true. It’s not even that, “Well, there’s the best for me, and then there’s the best for you.” It isn’t even clear that there is a best for me. There’s a whole set of things that are probably more or less equivalent.

If you have this mindset that says, “I have to get the best,” it’s so hard to figure out what that is that you end up looking in panic around you at what other people are choosing as a way to help you figure out what is the best. I think it’s partly because they are struggling to define the best, and they can’t do it on their own, so they’re madly checking out other people’s decisions as a way of figuring out what really is the best. It’s extremely destructive.  

Barry Schwartz quoted in Vox

Study: after 75 years the most fulfilling lives had one thing in common

For over 75 years, Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study).

Due to the length of the research period, this has required multiple generations of researchers. Since before WWII, they’ve diligently analyzed blood samples, conducted brain scans (once they became available), and pored over self-reported surveys, as well as actual interactions with these men, to compile the findings.

The conclusion? According to Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one thing surpasses all the rest in terms of importance: “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period. ”Not how much is in your 401(k). Not how many conferences you spoke at–or keynoted. Not how many blog posts you wrote or how many followers you had or how many tech companies you worked for or how much power you wielded there or how much you vested at each.

No, the biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life is, basically, love.

“It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship,” says Waldinger. “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”

Melanie Curtin writing in Fast Company 

The Influencers

The internet now means influence can come from anyone, anywhere; it can be visible or invisible, paid for by any power, approaching you any of myriad ways. Influence used to be understood as a top-down phenomenon, with governments, advertisers, donors or other powerful figures holding sway over the masses. These days we understand that the most powerful influences aren’t the distant ones but the most immediate and social — so the powerful tend to exert their influence by pretending to be ordinary people.

Marketers, for instance, work harder and harder to obscure the distinction between ads and real life. The last decade featured the rise of the professional “influencer” — someone paid to use their personal magnetism to promote specific agendas online. Instead of the top-down influence of a commercial or a billboard, these ads are embedded, shared by someone who seems, on some aspirational level, like a peer. The companies paying teenagers to hawk diet tea on Instagram are using the same tactics the Chinese government did when it recruited commenters to post hundreds of millions of pro-Communist Party messages online.

We like to think of our characters as fixed: We have our beliefs and our morals, religions and parties, states and countries, friends and enemies. We are inevitably ourselves — inescapably ourselves. We should be able to resist this kind of manipulation. But a steady stream of social-science studies suggests otherwise, demonstrating again and again how easily social pressures can affect the things we say, believe, do, think, eat. Our anxiety over influence goes back to the same fear Thomas Aquinas had, the same doubt families of alcoholics or cult members have. In the face of powerful influences, how can you locate and hold onto that original, irrefutable spark of self, your free will, your character, even your soul? That’s the fear that the idea of influence lays bare: that you can’t. Or that it might never have existed in the first place.

Annalisa Quinn writing in the New York Times

Self-Control can be Contagious

Not only do you tend to hang out with people like yourself, your friends will influence you toward or away from self-control. Even the people you are forced by circumstances to hang out with (like co-workers) have an influence on your behavior. 

That's the finding of researchers who asked participants to watch people either select carrot sticks or cookies to eat before taking tests related to self-control (not involving cookies and carrots). Participants who watched someone eat cookies before the tests did not do as well as those who had watched someone decide to eat carrots. 

In another test, participants were told to think of a friend with good self-control. This group performed better on a handgrip test (used to measure self-control) than did the participants assigned to think about a friend with weak self-control. Other tests showed similar results.  

The conclusion: If you surround yourself with people who make wise choices, you are more likely to do the same. You can boost your self-control simply by networking with other people who reinforce positive behavior (or vise versa). And when you show a lack of self-control, you are probably influencing someone else to do the same. 

Details of the study were published by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 

(more info)

Stephen Goforth

Conversation Hogs

We’ve all been involved in those irritating conversations where we never seem to be able to get a word in edgewise. Unfortunately, we may have been on the other side, too. Mr. Post Senning said it was crucial to “share the conversation pie. Share half if there are two of you, a quarter if there are four. The share of the pie is never as large as what involves you listening.” 

To be a true conversation superstar, try these tips: 

• Be attentive and give eye contact.

• Make active and engaged expressions.

• Repeat back what you’ve heard, and follow up with questions. 

• If you notice something you want to say, don’t say it. Challenge it and go back to listening. 

• For bonus points, wait an hour to bring up that thing you didn’t say earlier.

And keep in mind that when you say something declarative, seek out the other person’s opinion as well.

“If I say, ‘The Jets don’t stand a chance,’ I’m entitled to my opinion, but I have to say, ‘What do you think?’ afterward,” Ms. Fine said. “You don’t want to be a conversational bully.”

Jen Doll writing in the New York Times

Empathy is a Choice

Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us — a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain — it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. … This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams 

This is how to really get to know people

If you want people to really know you, weekly meetings don’t cut it. You need deep dives with them in high-intensity situations. When I talked with a crew of astronauts who went to the International Space Station together, I found out that NASA prepared them by sending them into the wilderness for 11 days together. Their guides promptly let them get lost, and they said they came out of that experience knowing each other better than colleagues they’d worked with for years. At Morning Star, a leading tomato-paste plant that has operated successfully for decades without a single boss, I was stunned to discover that the founder often interviews job applicants at their own homes for three to five hours.

Adam Grant writing in The Atlantic

The real way to build a social network

Picture the consummate networker: a high-energy fast talker who collects as many business cards as he can and attends mixers sporting slicked-back hair. Or the overambitious college kid who frantically e-mails alumni, schmoozes with the board of trustees, and adds anyone he's ever met as an online friend. Such people are drunk on networking Kool-Aid—and are looking at a potentially nasty hangover.

Luckily, building your network doesn't have to be like that. Old-school networkers are transactional. They pursue relationships thinking solely about what other people can do for them. Relationship builders, on the other hand, try to help others first. They don't keep score. And they prioritize high-quality relationships over a large number of connections.

Reid Hoffman, The Start-Up of You

The Vulnerability Myth

The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability and the most dangerous. When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on. We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability, we let our fear and discomfort become judgment and criticism. 

Our rejections of vulnerability often stems from associating it with dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment—emotions that we don't want to discuss, even when they profoundly affect the way we live, love, work, and even lead. What most of us fail to understand and what took me a decade of research to learn is the vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual eyes, vulnerability is the path.

Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Fearing Outsiders

"It’s what we call an over-exclusion bias," Mina Cikara, a Harvard psychologist who studies intergroup conflict, said. When you start fearing others "your circle of who you counted as friends is going to shrink. And that means those people outside of the bounds get less empathy, get fewer resources." It also means you become more vigilant and obsessed with marking who is an insider and who is not. "You want to draw those boundaries brighter, so you don’t make any mistakes about who you want to share your resources with or who you want to trust," she says.

Brian Resnick writing in Vox