Sharing successes is one of the more common facets of modern life, whether it’s sharing each new sale or target reached in the organizational world, or sharing our latest holiday photos via our social networks. The theory behind such things is no doubt that by sharing your excitement and your successes, you naturally grow the bond between you and those you share things with.
A new study suggests this approach may not actually be as effective as we like to think. The hypothesis was that because great moments tend to be rather exceptional in nature, sharing them can often distance you from your audience. Rather than connecting you further together, it in effect creates greater distance between you.
The experiment consisted of groups of participants watching various videos. One member of each group watched a clip of an exceptional piece of street performance. The other members had to make do with a rather mundane and boring video. They were then given some time to discuss the videos they’d seen.
The researchers then quizzed each participant on how they felt at the end of the discussion. Interestingly, it emerged that those who had seen the more interesting video felt worse at the end of the exercise, because they had felt excluded from the rest of the conversation around the dull video.
Interestingly, this was the exact opposite of how people had imagined things would be. The researchers had asked participants to imagine the outcome of the study beforehand, and people consistently believed that the lucky people who were given the exciting experience would feel better, both whilst watching the video and when discussing it afterwards. This would also include feeling a greater part of the group.
“Extraordinary experiences are pleasurable in the moment but can leave us socially worse off in the long run. The participants in our study mistakenly thought that having an extraordinary experience would make them the star of the conversation. But they were wrong, because to be extraordinary is to be different than other people, and social interaction is grounded in similarities.”
It brings to mind previous posts on the relative popularity of innovators. There have been various studies highlighting how people with innovative thoughts and ideas are often ostracized by those who would much rather things stay just as they are.
It emerged that when people voice creative ideas, they are viewed by others as having less leadership potential. That’s particularly true in times of economic uncertainty. The data suggest that, when the going gets tough, people crave the security that comes from having leaders who preserve the status quo.
A second study goes as far as to suggest that the mere idea of wanting creative and innovative ideas is a load of rubbish. The research team found that we have an inverse relationship with creativity. They found that new things can make us feel uncertain, and this uncertainty makes us feel uncomfortable, which of course makes us wary of innovation.
The original paper concludes on a rather depressing note, suggesting that the key to happiness is finding common ground with other people.
“When choosing between experiences, don’t just think about how they will feel when they happen — think about how they will impact your social interactions.
If an experience turns you into someone who has nothing in common with others, then no matter how good it was, it won’t make you happy in the long run.”
All of which isn’t great news for those seeking to initiate change in the workplace.