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How to Build a Strong Social Support Network for Women in Leadership

s our interests and needs shift, our social support network must evolve, giving up relationships that no longer work and pursuing new ones that do.
Part of being human is going through different phases of life. As children, we’re dependent on our parents. Then in the adolescent years, we push for a more autonomous position. Then finally as adults, we learn to become interdependent.

However, whether by nature or nurture, a person may not fully evolve as he or she has the potential to do. Because our society values independence to a fault, often individuals aren’t taught or don’t learn skills to develop interdependent relationships.

As we grow and mature, the relationships that nourish us also evolve. For most of us, for example, the kinds of relationships and the types of activities we shared with friends in high school are not what we find rewarding today. Sadly, too many people hold on to relationships that no longer work.

The sooner you identify your needs and preferences, the sooner you’ll be able to distinguish between the relationships that support you and those that do not. Once you can tell the difference, it’s time to advocate for what you want by saying “yes!” to some relationships and “no!” to others. As you do this, you’ll gradually build a social network that truly supports you.

Admittedly, setting these limits and reaching for what you want is hard. This is, however, part of the path of becoming more yourself. If you don’t, it’s a disservice to you and to others.

A study on happiness followed a group of people over the course of 20 years. It found that a person’s level of happiness is directly related to the happiness of his or her social support networks. For example, if you have a happy friend who lives within a mile of you, you’ll be 25% more likely to be happy. Doesn’t it only make sense that if you surround yourself with happy people, you’ll be happier? Or conversely, if you’re unhappy, you’ll make the people around you unhappy.

To make your social support network flourish, here are five elements that will help you develop good connections…

Consistency. Each person in a relationship is assessing the other for trustworthiness. Practice being and displaying your trustworthiness by being honest, reliable, consistent and respectful. Being judgmental, shaming and critical, on the other hand, is guaranteed to keep your relationships superficial.

Empathy. A social support network isn’t a one-way street. Scientific studies show that giving support has more benefits to you than simply receiving it. The ability to give and take maintains equality of power in a relationship and makes it sustainable, as one person isn’t doing all the work. It’s important to be able to dispassionately see and acknowledge the other person’s perspective.

Deep listening skills. A good listener asks questions and shares in celebrating the accomplishments of others without jealousy or competition. It pays to be mindful about not over-sharing personal information so others don’t become uncomfortable.

Ability to do fair conflict. In order to resolve conflicts easily, it helps to have an established protocol that you follow each time. The idea is to find a pattern that works for both parties and then stick to it. Different couples or friends, of course, follow different patterns. Even subtle conflicts need to be addressed to keep your relationships rich and lively. Bring stuff up and intentionally build your conflict-resolution skills.

Willingness to repair emotional hurts. Because some find it hard to trust others, they fear they will get hurt if they become too close to others. It’s important to accept that human love and caring does exist. And you can develop the skills for expressing these in yourself and recognizing them in others.

We only learn to be social in social situations. If your social support network is not as healthy as you like, please take action to upgrade it immediately. Take a class, attend a church meeting, volunteer, or visit a coffee shop and find a new friend today. Be proactive and add more socializing to your calendar. But remember what Zig Ziglar said, “If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.” 

I’m excited to be creating something new that will support highly motivated women to bring their brilliance to the world. It’s called the Great Circle Community and, in the fall, I’ll be inviting a few select women to join. Stay tuned for more information! But if this excited you as much as it does me, contact me and tell me you’re interested.

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