I come from a fairly large family and ever since I was a teenager, my siblings and I have been on opposite ends of the country and/or globe. Back in the day, phone calls and letters were the way we communicated with each other. Nowadays, I keep engaged with them via texting, group messaging, FaceTime, Skype, and social media.
I’ve always preferred FaceTime and Skype over the other mediums and the other day, Rick Thomas, President and CEO of The Chariot Group, put a phrase to why I prefer those two options when he told me that “perceived distance” was affecting my sense of belonging and connection with my family.
FaceTime and Skype help to “shorten the distance” between me and my siblings because it brings them into the room with me. Phone calls bring their voices but video brings their faces, bodies and shoot, sometimes even their pets to me.
Why is this important to note here, on a business blog?
Because “distance” affects human’s feelings of belonging or community, and the sense of belonging affects our performance.
Perceived distance is the feeling one gets when communicating and/or interacting with someone in person, on the phone or via video. For example, two colleagues sitting on opposite ends of a large conference room table would give the feeling of “distance” even though they were in the same room. Using the speaker phone and not being close enough to eliminate echo or hollow sounds would give the person on the other side of the call a distinct feeling that you were far away. Likewise, if your videoconferencing equipment or collaboration software can not effectively zoom and focus in or highlight who is speaking, or if the systems display was too small, or if you were sitting too far from the screen, you and others would perceive it as a “distant” exchange.
Too much perceived distance almost always results in disengagement and disinterest. Moreover, too much perceived distance can easily result in a breakdown of the work relationship itself, which leads to lack of productivity, creativity, ownership, etc.
Humans are social creatures; we have always belonged to a group, a team, or a community of some sort. We are hunters and gatherers…plural, not singular. Drastically put, to go at it alone meant death. That being said, it’s in our nature…we’re meant to belong to something bigger than just us!
While I reflected upon Rick’s concept of perceived distance, I decided to look up “belonging” in the workplace. I came across this post, “Why Belonging is Key in Today’s Workplace and I loved it. The author, Shawn Murphy, states,
“our biological need to belong results in a constant subconscious scanning of the environment to assess us or them? Safe or unsafe? Instinctively we determine if we belong or not – if the people that we meet are friend or foe. This constant scanning of the environment can trigger one of two areas in the brain: the threat response or the reward response.”
Think about that for a second; think about how we react.
If we are constantly assessing threats, our brain is probably not able to effectively apply logic, reasoning, objectivity, creativity, specificity, etc. Our perceptions are likely to be less acute and more general or assumptive. Moreover, think about what we do when we feel we don’t belong or when we feel threatened. Most of us (strong majority here) will overreact, will succumb to our emotions, will strike out at others. Whether it be physical or mental, it’s incredibly disruptive to us, our colleagues, and our success.
On the other hand, if our brains are consistently sensing an environment that provokes a reward response, we are more likely to have a peaceful or calm mental state. Likewise, we’ll find it easier to accept differing opinions and perceptions, we’ll be more effective at seeing the big picture and logically working in it, and we’ll be more collaborative and patient with our peers, our supervisors and our clients. The outcome in these situations is better relationships, better engagement and ownership and better performance.
I have always been a bit wordy so here’s a quick summary: when we feel connected and a sense of belonging, we experience less stress, our job satisfaction increases and our overall performance improves.
As leaders, as business owners, as supervisors, and as teammates, we need to put some sincere consideration into the “distance” in which we work. We should probably think how “belonging” or lack thereof can be helping or hindering our performance.
Then we can start to identify what we need to increase performance and success.