This past December, Professor Robert Waldinger gave a TED Talk that has subsequently become one of the most popular talks in the history of the program. In just over a month, it has garnered more than 2.5 million views.
Why has it become so popular, so quickly? I believe it’s because he tries to answer the question that every human being wonders about: What Makes a Good Life? And while this may seem like a vast, overwhelming topic, the answer is really quite simple. It is good relationships that keep us happy and healthy.
Waldinger has unique access to this topic as the current Director of the Laboratory of Adult Development at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is in charge of a longitudinal study that has tracked the health and mental well-being of 724 men for 76 years. The research from this study has so far shown that strong, close relationships were related to greater happiness, health, and longevity.
So as we make our way into this new year, what better resolution to make—or intention to set—than to work on enhancing our relationships? In addition to the relationships you already have—family, friends, colleagues—now is a good time to reflect on the relationships you’d like to create or deepen.
Which relationships make sense to create and nurture?
- Which relationships are critical to your short-term success? Research shows that a key factor in the success of young engineers is their ability to create relationships with senior engineers. I expect this applies to many disciplines.
- For your project teams, which ten relationships outside of your team hold the key to your success? Are these relationships in place so that you can count on them for guidance and support?
- Whose expertise would make a difference to you?
- Who might provide you access to a part of the world you want to engage?
- Who might you partner up with to provide the support and structure to accomplish
- Who would like to have as a friend?
- Who would you like as a confidante?
- Who might watch you and give you feedback?
- Who might you reach out to with support or mentoring?
- Who might love to be included or invited into your circle of friends and colleagues?
How might you develop these relationships?
Start by making a list of specific names. Working through the questions above will give you a beginning list that you can add to throughout the year. Push yourself—shoot for 20—then even if you fall short you’ll have 12 or 13.
Next, set up a way to keep track of the people you meet and what you learn about them. Spreadsheets are wonderful even though we don’t think of using them for relationships. I know it seems a bit mechanical or inauthentic, but it’s not. Relationships are far too important to trust to your memory. Like many other parts of life, if you don’t track and measure and record, you will not make progress.
You can also use the meetings you already attend as opportunities for connection. Go early and stay late. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know and catch up with people you do know. Listen far more than you speak. Listen for what you can learn about people when they speak: interests, concerns, projects, family. Jot down a few key words to remind you later of what you have learned.
Lastly, start a new practice of inviting someone to coffee or tea three times a week. Two types of questions will make these conversations over coffee successful—asking about their career, interests, or projects; and asking for their input on a problem or situation with which you are struggling.
- I’d like to hear about your career…how did you come to be in this place?
- I’m struggling with an issue and would love to discuss it with you.
For many of us, working on relationships seems like time taken away from our core work. It’s difficult to see the connection between results and knowing more people or going to coffee. It certainly seems like something we can put off today while we do something productive. Maybe, maybe not.
Take some time today to write down the names of at least ten people with whom you’d like to have a good connection by the end of the year—then simply put that list where you can see it each week. Good things will happen.