Invest in your social capital

Folef Bredt – Founder and Innovation director Lifeguard, author of WQ – Unleash your full potential

“Dedicate time to it every day, even if it’s a short call or one act of kindness” – Folef Bredt

We’re all familiar with financial capital. And if we invest our money well, it yields a return. It’s the same with social capital. The return on nurturing relationships is a higher quality of life and better performance.

Social capital is the total value of your relationships — your friends, colleagues and the people in your network. Having meaningful relationships is a basic human need. But our social capital can also lead to innovation, better ideas and more effective collaboration.

Magical moments

Everyone has a story about being introduced to someone, somewhere, and amazing things happening after – they found the solution to a problem, found love, had a spark of inspiration, or the meeting changed the course of their career. Social capital allows time and place to intersect perfectly. Then magic happens.

Some people will credit destiny or coincidence to these stories. But I’m convinced that they can all be traced back to your social capital and the fact that people were open to you in those moments.

Social distancing and the home office have made it harder to mingle and develop relationships. Those informal moments before or after a meeting, or during an event, have disappeared for the time being. It’s harder to build social capital virtually. Part of our relationships have gone into hibernation.

Just wanted to say hi

High demands at work have also moved social capital lower on the list of priorities. When we’re stressed and have cognitive overload, we’re less likely to make a conscious effort to reach out to a friend or colleague just for the sake of saying hi.

Here are my 10 tips on how to nurture your social capital now – and when corona ends:

  1. Reflect on the value of your relationships. We take a lot of our relationships for granted and underestimate how important they are for our wellbeing. Also reflect on what you bring to a relationship and how it impacts the other person’s life.
  2. Create opportunities to interact. Actively plan in ‘conversations around the coffee machine’ by regularly calling up people in your network. I suggest doing this at least once a week, around lunch time. That’s when you’re least likely to disturb them, as most people do their deep work in the morning or in the second half of the afternoon.
  3. Choose your connections wisely. Firing off dozens of text messages to tons of people isn’t going to pay a high dividend. Having a few ‘best friends’ at work will have a bigger impact on your social capital than 50 vague acquaintances.
  4. Get to know each other. Social capital is built on trust, acceptance and psychological safety. Collaborating will be easier if you know more about your colleagues outside of work. Be curious, ask questions that are not on the agenda.
  5. Practice empathy. Try to take the perspective of the other person. Ask open questions, listen carefully without judging, pay attention to non-verbal cues and show concern.
  6. Offer help. Make yourself available, listen to others, introduce them to someone else, or offer an outside perspective. The more you help other people without expecting something in return (and volunteering is great for this!), the more you will grow your social capital.
  7. Ask for help: Asking people in your network for assistance will give them a chance to do something that makes them feel good.
  8. Show gratitude: When someone helps you, let them know you appreciate it. Gestures like this will help people remember you, which can pay off longer term.
  9. If you’re a manager, bring people together. Leave 10-15 minutes before the end of a meeting for your team members to linger and ‘mingle’ informally. Allow time for this during online meetings too. Make clear they shouldn’t discuss anything that was just on the agenda. (See the box-out for more tips for managers).
  10. Invite ‘outsiders’ to your meetings. Encourage your team members to invite people from other teams to your meetings, and do the same yourself. This will help nurture new relationships.

Even when social distancing ends, we’ll still work in a hybrid mode. This means, there’ll still be fewer spontaneous moments to develop relationships. To preserve the value of your social capital, you’ll need to make a conscious effort and make the interactions you do have count. These tips will help.

Remember that your network and social capital won’t grow by themselves. Dedicate time to it every day, even if it’s a short call, a brief personal message or a simple act of kindness.

Reminder to managers: small talk pays off!

Social capital and team performance are closely linked. Being nice to each other, giving people opportunities to engage in small talk and ‘goof around’ online and in the office will strengthen personal relationships in the team and boost productivity and innovation.

As a manager, you need to lead by example: be consistently honest, transparent, curious and kind, demonstrate vulnerability and… don’t take yourself too seriously. This will encourage others to open up too and trust each other more. And as soon as the situation allows, encourage people to get together. Social capital grows when team members meet up. Finally, make sure your team has the room and energy to nurture their networks at work.

Previous blogs

Folef Bredt is founder of Lifeguard, ING’s vitality and wellbeing partner for the WQ ProgramWQ Connect, WQ Insights and global Think Forward Leadership programmes. This is his third blog in a monthly series.