Do you remember middle school and how painful it was with friendships? Ugh, I shudder at the thought. I will admit I wasn’t a popular kid in middle school or even high school. I always found friendships difficult to navigate. I would attach myself to one or two girls and then be devastated if the friendship didn’t work out. I didn’t feel like I was on solid footing with friendships until college. I would like to thank my longtime friends like Pam and Emily and others for sticking with me. I love you!
In speaking with my guest today, Shasta Nelson, I learned once again how important friendships are. Both women and men alike need friendships. These connections are crucial for our physical, mental, and emotional health. It was a privilege to have Shasta on the show!
During our conversation, Shasta and I also chatted about:
- How her work as a pastor was a natural start to her current work with friendship.
- We did a brief tour of her books, including Friendships Don’t Just Happen, Frientimacy, and The Business of Friendship.
- We talked about the friendship triangle, which was so important that I shared it with my daughter, Charlotte, and will share it with my little one, Olivia, when she gets older.
- Why we need friendships at work, even when we are managers or in other leadership positions.
- The impact that friendships or a lack thereof has on our health.
- And how we can foster friendships in remote or hybrid work environments.
- And more
We packed a lot of juiciness into our conversation and covered a lot of ground!
Listen to the podcast here
Why We Need Friendships: The Crucial Connections For Our Well-Being With Shasta Nelson
I’m so glad you’re here. How are you doing out there? Let’s start back to middle school. Do you remember middle school and how painful it was with friendships? I’m getting the shivers thinking about it. I shudder at the thought. I will admit that I was not a popular kid in middle school or even high school. I know, shocker. I always have found friendships difficult to navigate, at least until college. College saved me.
During those middle school and high school years, I would attach myself to 1 or 2 girls and then be devastated if the friendship didn’t work out. As I said, I didn’t feel like I was on solid footing with friendships until college. I’d like to give out a shout-out and a thank you to my longtime friends, Pam and Emily, and you know who you have been, Candy and others, for sticking with me. I love you all so very much.
In speaking with my guest, Shasta Nelson, I learned once again how important friendships are. Both women and men alike need friendships. These connections are crucial for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It was such a privilege to have Shasta on the show. During our conversation, Shasta and I also chatted about how her work as a pastor was a natural start to her current work with friendship.
We did a brief tour of her books, including Friendships Don’t Just Happen, Frientimacy, and The Business of Friendship. We talked about the Friendship Triangle, which was so important that I shared it with my daughter, Charlotte, as soon as I learned it. I’m going to share it with my little one, Olivia, when she gets older. There are some YouTube videos on the Friendship Triangles. You can google that and find out more.
Check out Shasta’s books and why we need friendships at work, even when we are managers or are in other leadership positions. I talked to Shasta about how lonely it can be up at the top, the impact of friendships or a lack thereof on our health and how we can have friendships in remote or hybrid work environments and so much more. We packed a lot of juiciness into this conversation and covered some good ground. Stay tuned.
Here’s more about Shasta. Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert, a leading voice on loneliness and creating healthy relationships, whether she’s speaking at conferences or on TEDx stages, giving media interviews to outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, or appearing as a guest on the Harvard Business Review Podcast or The Steve Harvey Show. She is constantly teaching all of us how to create healthier and more fulfilling relationships in our lives.
Her research and wisdom can also be found in her three books. Friendships Don’t Just Happen teaches us how to make new friends as adults. Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness teaches us how to make our relationships more meaningful and healthy. Her newest book, The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of the Relationships Where We Spend Most of our Time teaches us why we need to foster better friendships in our jobs.
Before we get started, if you’re enjoying the show, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and/or Spotify. If you’ve already left a rating or review, I thank you so much. As I always say, your support of this show means the absolute world to me, so thank you. You can always share this show with your friends, family members, or colleagues on your social media feeds.
If you haven’t downloaded my freebie, 10 Steps to Being Braver at Work, go get it right now on my website at BraveWomenAtWork.com. It’s free. Who doesn’t need a nudge to speak up, find a mentor, or ask for what you want? It’s all in that worksheet style and workbook style freebies. Go grab it on my website. Let’s welcome Shasta to the show.
Shasta, welcome to the show. How are you?
I’m so good. Thank you so much for having me, Jen.
I’m so excited. It’s a joke running in my community now. My show editor gave me LinkedIn lover or LinkedIn lurker because I find a lot of my guests on LinkedIn. Thank you for responding to my message. I appreciate you being here.
Absolutely. I love your audience. I couldn’t say no.
I love to start with my guest’s backstory. One of the goals of the show is to share women’s stories because I think that we don’t do that enough and it helps motivate and inspire us. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your backstory and how you’ve gotten to where you are now?
I have my Master’s of Divinity, so I’m a trained pastor. I used to pastor churches, which in hindsight, makes complete sense to me because as growing up, that was where I had community modeled to me. That’s where I saw people support each other and where belonging happened. As a pastor, it was a great training ground for what was eventually going to happen where I was speaking and giving a keynote of basically a sermon every single weekend.
I got some serious speaking practice and training small group leaders and helping facilitate and run groups and thinking about the question like what it means to belong. Do you show up and you should be accepted? What does it mean to be there for each other, and if we’re all showing up looking our best, are we being vulnerable?
It was a beautiful place for me to ask big questions about belonging, community, and relationships. In 2008, I made the shift. I want to talk more and more about this theme. I want to do it outside of any, “We all have to believe the same thing and or that you have to show up at this church to belong.” It became a passion of mine to say, “What does it look like to belong in this world that’s lonely?” Most people aren’t going to church to find that connection, so how do we help them find and build connections?
Ever since 2008, I’ve written three books. I do a ton of speaking. I work with corporations now. I don’t use religious language or spiritual-sounding stuff in any way, shape, or form in that same concept as a pastor. In many ways, I feel like I’m doing the exact same work. It’s like helping create community and helping us think through what it means to deepen our relationships and feel supported and go through life believing that people have our back. It felt like a big switch at the time. When I look back, I’m like, “Similar work.”Think through what it means to deepen our relationships, feel supported, and go through life believing that people have our back. Click To Tweet
You are a former pastor, so that’s awesome. You won an award as the former pastor, but there is a throughline because think about all of the amazing speaking experiences that you had. Think about all of the relationships that you were building as a pastor. Out of curiosity, were people shocked when you’re like, “I’m going to go and focus on community and relationships. I’m going to completely go away from this. I’m going to do this whole new career?”
There were a lot of different aspects that led to that and a lot of different events because of slow change. I don’t know that people were shocked as much. When you’re in the church world, anybody who leaves in any form feels like betraying the church world. It’s interesting how, several years later, being brought into churches on occasion, still to this day, because churches, even though we give the idea that they are a community, just because you show up doesn’t mean you feel like you belong.
It’s easy to show up and feel like there are cliques, and it’s easy to be in small groups where vulnerability is encouraged, but trust hasn’t been built. It’s cool to still sometimes go back in that world and know the language and be able to speak to no matter who we are in church, out of the church, what politics we are, and where are our age group, it’s a human hunger to feel connected.
We haven’t been taught that. Most of us have never had a class on it. Most of us have not read a book on it. Hopefully, some of us have had some decent modeling. When you look back on the statistics, it’s not likely. I work with workshops and ask women to write down all their memories of how their mom modeled friendship to them when they were little. Can you name her friends? Can you name what they went and did together? How much did she come home and talk about it? How much did you see? How much did she invite her friends?
Over 60% to 70% of us have a hard time answering those questions. We didn’t have it modeled to us well. It’s like we’re walking around thinking we’re supposed to do this naturally and automatically. Hunger is automatic and natural, but how to develop healthy relationships is not natural at all, unfortunately.
I wish it was. As you and I were saying before we started the interview, “Don’t you wish that we all had a class on this?” This is what you do. That’s why I’m so glad you’re here. Before getting on LinkedIn with you, I heard you on a podcast with Andrea Owen many years ago when you had written your first book, and we’ll talk about all of your books at a higher level. I had read and heard about Friendships Don’t Just Happen. I heard you, and I was like, “You know what you’re talking about.” That’s how I came upon your work.
It’s unique. I know of Brené Brown and talking about connection, but I don’t know if there are a lot of folks out there that do what you do. It’s amazing that you’re teaching people these critical skills of all ages, races, and genders. It’s a universal thing that we’re lonely. I’m wondering, to kick us off, during and post-COVID, are you seeing your work is more needed than ever, or are you finding that we’re about the same? I would assume that your work is probably more needed than ever at this point.
So much has changed. Back in 2008, 2009, and 2010 when I was getting started, everybody was obsessed with parent-child relationships and romantic relationships. You could walk into any bookstore, and there would be dozens of books on those topics. There’s not a single book on friendship. It was a woman who gets pregnant, and she buys everything on how to do this or if she wants to save her marriage or attract the right one. We were so focused on those two relationships, yet all the research kept showing us that those are going to be, in quantity, some of the smallest numbers of relationships in your life. You’re only going to have so many kids and so many spouses.
Our friends are impacting so much of our health, our longevity, how we feel supported in this world, and what parts of us get brought out and with different people. Our friendships are so rich for our health and our happiness. Back then, I had to convince people of that. Quite honestly, I would write the health magazines and be like, “You’re covering a new kale smoothie recipe every month. How to lose five pounds, yet when’s the last time you did a friendship article? This is the number one factor to our health and you’re not covering it.”
I would go into audiences, and people and are like, “We need to speak to everybody’s loneliness.” People would be like, “I don’t think our people are lonely.” I’m like, “Let me at them.” I get up there and start describing like, “How many of you wish you felt more supported? How many of you wish your friendships felt like they were there for you? How many of you wish that you felt more known like people get you?” All these hands keep going up, and I’m like, “That feeling or desire is loneliness. That’s your body sending you a message that you have a need that is not being met, just the same way you feel hunger when you need to eat, the same way you feel yawn when you’re tired.”
That feeling is your body telling you that it needs more support and connection. It’s not a bad thing to be lonely. It’s not a bad thing to be hungry. It’s not a bad thing to be tired. It’s only a “bad thing” if we don’t get the need met. If we don’t eat, if we don’t get water, if we don’t sleep, that becomes a bad and dangerous thing. Similarly, it’s not a bad thing to feel lonely. It’s a bad thing if we keep pretending we’re not lonely, we keep dismissing it, we keep trying to deny it, or we keep telling ourselves, as I did back in the day. “I can’t be lonely. I have tons of people. I have friends. I know people. I could call so and so if I ever needed her,” and yet I haven’t called her in a year.
We feel defensive, like, “I can’t be lonely. In fact, I’m around people all day long,” and be like, “I’m peopled out. I’m so tired of people.” All of those things can be true, especially with women. This is one of the most fascinating things. When we picture a lonely person, we have this picture of some person who lives out in the mountains, and nobody’s seen them in years or they’re the old lady down the street.
We have all these stereotypes, yet the loneliest people are women, people who are giving to so many other people who are making sure that so many other people’s needs are being taken care of. They’re often very busy at work in customer service and managing people and so much for people coming home and being there for more people and often need a break from people.
You can be over people and still lonely and still not nourished, connected, and supported. Once you start naming that, you start seeing the look in everybody’s eyes. What’s happened with COVID is now I don’t have to name that as much. People know it, which is such a beautiful thing. The research has caught up with what we’ve known for 10 to 15 years about health and happiness. We can get into some of that. The research is catching up now we’ve got big studies to back us up, which is cool.
When I was a kid and even as an adult, I can feel loneliness even when I’m in a crowd of people. Some people don’t understand that, or maybe they don’t want to admit that I would be vulnerable enough to say, “I am uncomfortable.” I feel lonely even though I was at a party or I was at a networking event for work. I’m assuming I’m not alone, like you said. I have found it harder to make lasting friendships as an adult. I was hoping we could dive into that. I want to come back around to the health component, but let’s start with if we are a person that feels that loneliness, what are some ways that we can start making those friendships as adults?
First, naming it as loneliness is such an emotional intelligent thing to do. If we’re not comfortable with the word, we call it hunger or boredom, or we’re tired and we don’t say, “I need to build relationship.” Naming that is so important because then once we can name the feeling, emotional intelligence invites us to then do the next step, which is, “How do I get this need met?”
What’s fascinating is when I wrote my first book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen, it was about how to make friends as an adult. It was the different types of friends, how we develop them, how we start with them, how we grow them, and what are all the different ways to meet people. When I was out doing my book tour on that and doing a lot more research after that, I started realizing that one of the areas of loneliness that I feel was underrepresented and not being talked about enough, that was probably the biggest area of loneliness, for most of us, is not that we don’t know enough people. It’s that for most of us, we don’t feel known by a few.
For most of us, we don’t need to meet more people, but we need to go deeper with the people we already know. That was a fascinating thing. What’s important for each of us is to realize that when we feel lonely, we need to be super compassionate with ourselves, check-in, and be like, “What would feed me? What would it look like? Do I need to go meet more people?” For many of us, maybe we’ve moved to a new area, or maybe we lost a relationship that was our trusted relationship. Maybe we’ve gone through a big life change that feels like all of our relationships have been thrown up in the air.We don't need to meet more people; we need to go deeper with the people we already know. Click To Tweet
For many of us, it’s not a matter of needing to keep meeting people. You’ve probably met enough people and you probably know people you could be good friends with if you knew what to do with those people. That’s what we can talk about here. We can dive into Frientimacy Triangle if you’re ready. It’s making a list of who are the 3 to 5 people that you wish you could say a year from now you’re closer to.
Who are the people you’ve gravitated to or who are some of the people you’ve already met that you would love to feel closer to? Who are some of the relationships that you have, but maybe you’re not as deep or as vulnerable as you want? What could we do about that? It’s starting to do an evaluation or an assessment of your relationships because then the strategy will become clearer and can be a little more customized to each of us.
There’s a little homework there. I heard you say, as one key takeaway, doing an audit of your relationships and the fact that I always believed I need to meet new people or more people. I know that most of us, and you would know exactly, but I say, “What do we know?” It’s like 75 to over 100 or 150 is the average number of people.
We can keep track of 150 relationships. We know tons of people.
You told 3 to 5. That is totally doable. Before we go to the relationship requirements and your triangle, which is fascinating, can we touch on the health component? I don’t want to leave that alone. Let’s talk about if we are too long in loneliness or maybe if we aren’t taking care of our relationships or feel I’m ostracizing myself or forcing myself to be on my own. How does this impact our health?
I don’t think most of us grasp it. We might hear the headlines and see some of the data. We’re so ingrained to think about diet and exercise that it’s like we aren’t letting the actual data in to land. We had a book come out from Dr. Waldinger from Harvard. He has been leading this 85-plus-year research on longevity and happiness. This has been for years that he keeps restating this. He is restating again that the quality of relationships is the number one factor between those who live the longest and are the happiest. We have so many different studies. There’s one study that follows people who have healthy lifestyle habits defined by their diet, their exercise and not smoking, and those who don’t have healthy lifestyle habits.
Also, splitting those two groups of people up between those who feel connected and those who don’t feel connected. It’s no surprise to any of us that the best performing group is those who have healthy lifestyle habits and feel connected. The second highest performing group, meaning they lived the longest and had the least likelihood of disease and death, was the group that had unhealthy lifestyle habits and felt connected. They outperformed the people who had healthy lifestyle habits and felt disconnected.
Our body, when we feel disconnected, absorbs all the stress in our lives that are around us. It leads to all kinds of other different diseases and problems. If we feel disconnected, it’s more damaging to our health than smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. It’s twice as harmful as being obese. It does the equivalent damage to our body as being a lifelong alcoholic.
It’s worse than not exercising. It’s worse than living in pollution. When we feel disconnected and we’re ignoring it or we’re telling ourselves we don’t have time for it or we’re too busy or whatever stories we come up with, it’s damaging our bodies. When we feel connected, we feel supported. When we feel supported, our body creates a protective barrier around our bodies. We don’t bring in cortisol and stress as much.
We end up with that feeling of being supported, of being known. It puts our body into repair mode. It keeps our body in peace more. It’s so powerful from a health perspective. It’s evolutionary. Look back at the evolutionary practices of our ancient ancestors. Their survival is literally dependent upon being connected, being in a tribe. Still, we don’t need each other in the same way. We are not warring tribes in the same way.
I wish we could say that. We may not need to be protecting the camp at all times. We still need each other, and it’s not something to look over. I’ll end with this one other statistic. Dr. Niven was a researcher on happiness. He went down, researched, and took all the longitudinal studies on happiness. He concluded that 70% of our happiness comes down to our relationships.
You think about all the other things you think you need to make you happy, like losing that weight, going on that trip, getting that promotion, getting that raise, having your kids in that school, getting that house, or getting the kitchen remodeled. Think of everything else you think you need to be happy, and that adds up to 30%. It’s almost virtually impossible to be happy if you’re not investing in relationships. Hopefully, that will convict a few.
I’m convicted. One thing that’s interesting about my situation, and then I want to talk about the three requirements, is I built this virtual network during COVID. I didn’t even know I was doing it, but I was warding off depression and some of the other things by building this show and meeting people like you.
I understand that not every one of my guests or people that I run into in these communities of personal development are lifelong friends, but it bolstered me. I don’t know your thoughts on this, but I think you can have virtual friendships and in-person friendships. It can run the gamut, but I personally have felt more bolstered as a result of proactively building these relationships than I ever did before.
Loneliness is subjective. It’s not my job to tell anyone else whether they’re lonely. The question is, “How loved and supported do I feel in my life right now?” I often have people that do answer on a scale of one to 10, and 10 is I feel completely supported. I feel known. I feel like I’ve got my whole network. I’ve got people I can confide in, make the list of all the ideals I have, and people I can go off and have fun with. Very few of us do a ten. In fact, 70% of us score a 6 or below.
What you’re talking about is super powerful because one area we feel supported is having a vast network, especially in a work career position. We want to know that we know people that we could reach out to. It makes meaningful conversations. Even if we don’t become friends, it does ward off loneliness. Taking the time to talk to somebody for 10 minutes at a cafe or in Uber can contribute.
Strangers contribute to that. Relationships are a little bit like you were thinking like a well-rounded diet. You want a variety of different things that you’re eating every single week. You don’t want to eat the exact same thing, yet you also need to have some standbys. You need to have some nourishing food. It’s going to look different for each of us, but we absolutely want variety. We want deep. We want close. What you created can definitely help with one of those areas.Relationships are a little bit like a well-rounded diet. It’s going to look different for each of us, but we absolutely want variety. Click To Tweet
As I was researching and looking at your background and all the great work you’ve put out there, I know you have a TEDx Talk on The Three Requirements of All Healthy Friendships. Let’s not keep this hitting any longer. Why don’t you share what the audience what those three requirements are?
I was researching for my book Frientimacy, and that’s a book on how to deepen friendships. I was alluding to it earlier that for a lot of us, our loneliness doesn’t come from needing to meet more people. It’s needing to go deeper with some of the people we already know and knowing how to repair and maintain a relationship. We don’t have to keep replacing them and starting over all the time.
When I was studying and researching for that, I was looking at all the different studies. Google was doing perfect team studies, like what makes for the best team. Gottman was studying what makes a healthy marriage. We had so many studies looking at different kinds of relationships and they were all using different words and concepts that they were studying. I pulled them all together and was like, “What do we have in common here?”
There were three common denominators that came across every single definition of a healthy relationship. I turned those into a triangle. You can imagine a quick triangle. At the bottom of the foundation is positivity, which means we need to feel good. We want positive, pleasant feelings. Every single one of us, when we think about wanting friends, it’s because we want to feel more loved, feel more joy, and have more fun. It’s never because we want to feel more judged, feel more guilt, feel more judgment, jealousy, or any of that stuff. It’s always we want positive feelings as much as possible.
The two arms up the triangle are positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. On a foundation of pleasant feelings, the two arms that when every relationship starts at the bottom go up the triangle as we practice spending consistent time with each other, the memories we make, the conversations we have, the logging of the hours, the shared experiences, seeing each other frequently, and the building blocks of spending time together.
That vulnerability is how we start feeling known by each other, how we start feeling they know us that we can express our ideas and our opinions, and that we can share a little bit of our dreams and our history, and that we’re starting to get a feel for each other. We start feeling like we know who each other is a little bit more.
That has to be followed up with positivity because none of us want to be vulnerable and then be judged, so we want to be vulnerable and then feel more loved and appreciated for that vulnerability. It needs to leave us feeling good that we were vulnerable. Because it leaves us feeling good, we want to spend more time with each other, which adds to consistency. As we spend more time with each other, we get to know each other better, which is more vulnerability.
You can see how those three things keep spiraling round and around. I can guarantee that in any relationship that any of us have ever built in our lives that feels healthy and meaningful, we can look back and see how those three things were present. Conversely, in any relationship in our lives that feels like it’s lacking now, we could probably point to which of those three things is lagging behind or isn’t happening.
It’s done a nice overview of Frientimacy. I forgot to ask you. I’ve read Friendships Don’t Just Happen. Can you give in your own words what that book is about? Do you need to read them in order, or can you read any of your books even out of order?
You can read any of the books, and you don’t even have to read all of them. I try to make sure that they all have some of the health components and different things, but Friendships Don’t Just Happen is more about how to make new friends as an adult. Frientimacy is about how to go deeper with friends and how to keep those relationships strong.
Conflict is a part of relationships. That leads to intimacy, and it’s how to maintain, repair and protect relationships. The last book is The Business of Friendships. That one speaks to why we need friends in the workplace. That’s a super fun one because when I was talking about the triangle, the positivity, consistency, and vulnerability, one of the ones that a lot of people, especially women, feel is the hardest one to do is consistency.
They feel like it’s hard to log the frequency, the time, protect time, and set aside time for friendships. Work is the place where a lot of us are the most frequent. If we can maximize our time there and build relationships there, then we are like kids building our relationships at school. Work is to adults what school is to kids. It’s allowing us to maximize our time where we already are. That’s a great one for how to make sure we see the people we work with as potential friends that benefit us and benefit our employer. Those are the three books so far.
I have a lot of questions around friendships at work. Since we deal with careers a lot, I wanted to ask some questions around the latest book. Was this published during COVID?
It was so sad because I was picturing this big book tour and all these corporations, and it was like, “Cancel everything. Do a virtual thing.”
I encourage people to get any or all of your books. With friendships at work, do you find that making friendships at work is different than friendships we cultivate in our personal lives?
They are different in a variety of different ways. Friendships, no matter where we make them, have to have positive emotions, consistent time, and vulnerable sharing at some point. Those three things have to be present in any friendship. How we do those three things will look different based on our personalities. For example, positivity and how we do love languages.
Some people will add positivity to their relationship with gift-giving. Others will do it with acts of service. Others will do it with laughter. Affirmation will come easily. Hopefully, all of us do it with empathy and have some validation in there and expressing our liking of each other. We’ll have certain tools that we’ll use easier in positive emotion. To clarify, I want to make sure that positivity does not mean that we have to be happy and cheerful all the time.
It doesn’t mean that we are Pollyannas and pretend that everything is great. It means that we leave each other feeling better for having been with each other. That can be hard things that we’re talking about, and we do it in a way that leaves us feeling not judged and do it in a way that leaves us feeling accepted and seen. That is positivity.
How we do these three things will look different based on who we are. Work relationships, like I was saying, can sometimes be easier because consistency is happening for us somewhat. Some of us, if we work from home, we still have to put in that initiation like a lot of us in the workplace. We don’t have to invite, we don’t have to initiate, and we don’t have to schedule time with each other.
We’re paid to see each other and paid to interact. That helps build that consistency. Sometimes we can feel closer to the people we work with, interestingly enough, than our best friends that we don’t talk to us frequently. We might feel closer on an intimacy level like those friends we could call if something big happens that can leave us feeling supported in a certain way where we like we know we could count on them.
When it comes to day-to-day life and people who know what we’re doing this weekend, know that we ran that race, and we know that our kids are starting school or kids are home sick, those are people who often we work with. They can often leave us feeling more known, seen, and connected. It’s super meaningful. If we can maximize that consistency, it is powerful.
I have been a people leader or a manager for years. I saw this was in your book, so I don’t want to steal all the thunder, but I wanted to ask you about this. As a people leader and as I climbed the ranks as a manager and then a senior vice president now but was a VP at some point and things like that, I have found that it’s harder and harder for me to have friends. When people have after-hours events with coworkers, I am not typically invited. I’ve heard and experienced that it’s lonely at the top. I’m not the CEO or in the C-Suite or anything like that. Even like a few layers below, I find that it can be lonely. Does it have to be if you’re a people leader?
I would love to have it not be that way. I have a chapter in my book that says it doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. All of us are lonely at different times, but when we’re lonely, we have less empathy. We look around and see more things to be scared of. We feel less safe. Our brains are less creative. The effects of us when we are lonely are detrimental.
When we think about our leaders, our leaders are the people we want feeling most connected to and most supportive because how they feel impacts all of us. We want them to show up with that maximum capacity of functioning and making decisions from a place of feeling loved and connected. I would love to say it’s not. As leaders, we have to start modeling it differently and start taking risks. We’ve been told that we’re not supposed to make friends with people. We have a lot of fear around favoritism and that sort of thing.
In my book, I lay at the employee’s feet too. We need to start being okay with our leaders having friends. If it’s not us, that’s okay. We need to start being comfortable. This is one of the things that happen. Over 62% of us are lonely in the workplace. That’s some of the latest numbers. Most of us are lonely at work. What happens when we’re lonely is we’re going to feel more threatened when we see somebody else being friends with each other.
It’s like being hungry and watching somebody eat in front of you. If we all had eaten lunch and we saw somebody snacking, we wouldn’t be like, “Ah.” If we’re starving, we don’t want it for others in a way. We’re jealous, and our fear mode sticks up. One of the things we’re working against is most of us are lonely so we feel threatened when we see other people getting what we want.
We need to make sure that we’re taking responsibility for getting our own needs met and saying, “This is not my leader’s fault for going and making friends. I need to see that and recognize that I need to make friends for myself. As long as I keep my relationship with my leader as healthy as good as possible, I can need to practice trusting that my leader is going to make the best decisions possible they can as a leader and as a friend to certain people.”
We’ve got to start practicing more trust around the board because we are lonely, and it is not working. Leaders need to be proactive about reaching out to other leaders and building friendships, finding safe people where they can be vulnerable. A lot of leaders self-isolate. They feel like nobody can get them and that they feel like there’s all this confidential stuff they can’t talk about. They’re carrying these burdens. We’ve got to find ways where we have our leaders feeling like they’re safe and have appropriate places for them to be seen and known too.Leaders need to be proactive about reaching out to other leaders and building friendships, finding safe people where they can be vulnerable. Click To Tweet
Before we jump off of this, this is a key point. You talk about vulnerability. If a person is not willing to be vulnerable with their teams and make those friendships, that separates a leader from a manager. A manager’s there to get a job done. A leader is there to manage and inspire people. My CEO and I, we’ve talked about a term called soul management, so I want to accredit it to him, but managing the person’s soul and knowing them at a deeper level and them knowing you at a deeper level is an important topic.
I hope my book is a place where it has some good ideas in there. I interview a bunch of leaders and how they’re navigating their friendships. One leader pops into my head. She talks about her best friends on her team and she knows that people know that they’re one of her best friends. She keeps saying to her people, “I hope you have a best friend like this. She and I have been friends here in this company for ten years, and it feels so good to have somebody like this. What can I do to help you guys make friends with each other? Here are some of the services that our employer offers. Here are some of the employee resource groups. Here’s some time. What can I do to help you build up friendships?” She is using it as a way of modeling that we want them to have friends.
One of the big results that came out of my book when I was doing research was, “What percentage of people want to have a friend”? When I ask the question, “How many of you feel like your employer wants you to have a friend at work, a best friend at work?” the number dropped in half. When I asked, “Does your supervisor want you to have a friend at work?” it was similar. We want to have friends, but we’re not sure our leaders want it. It’s like that proverbial for caught laughing at the water cooler and our managers walking up, and we feel like we have to stop talking. We don’t want to look like we’re not being productive.
We’ve got to change that culture. We need leaders saying, “I believe when you have a best friend at work, you are happier, you are more engaged, you’re healthier, you show up with more energy, and you treat our customers better. I believe the research. What can we do to help bring in speakers to train for a healthy relationship? What can we do to foster relationships in our meetings? What can we do to normalize this? What can I do to prove to you that I want this for you and give permission?”
Let’s touch on the company. There may be some business owners in here. They might be wondering, “Why should my company care?” or even individual employees going, “Why would my company even care about this?” What would you say about why companies should care that we have friends at work?
Gallup has been doing this for decades researching. They have concluded that when an employee has a best friend at work, they are seven times more engaged. My brain doesn’t even quite know how anybody could be seven times more engaged. That means less workplace accidents, less loss of inventory, and we have better customer service. We call in, we show up, we have each other’s backs, and we want to get our work done. We are more willing to brainstorm. We’re more comfortable problem-solving.
You make a list of everything as a manager that you’re stressed about, and your people feeling like they are supported, connected, and have friends helps solve almost all of that. The foundation of almost every problem from mental health to creativity and innovation, at the bottom of that is people feeling safe and connected, feeling like they have relationships that help make them resilient and keep them. If you care about retention, we all know that we can have the dream job on paper, and we’re coming home every night just like, “These people are killing me.”
I heard that over and over and over when I interviewed people. They use words like, “My job is killing me. This relationship is killing me. My manager.” I’m like, “Listen to ourselves. These are big words we’re using.” If we’re coming home complaining on a regular basis about people, that takes away our health. Who we work with impacts our health more than who our doctor is. Who we’re working with is who’s shaping our health. We will all walk away from our dream job if we are exhausted by the people.Who we work with impacts our health more than who our doctor is. Who we’re working with is who’s shaping our health. Click To Tweet
We will stay in a job that’s like, “Okay, maybe not my dream job, but I’m not going to go looking for greener pastures as easily if I love who I’m working with and feel like I enjoy these people and can’t imagine not seeing them every day.” If you care about retention and loyalty, pretty much anything, you will want to believe the research that our relationships matter.
There are some folks that are reading that may be entirely virtual or they’re in hybrid. We’ve already touched on COVID and how that’s changed. Thank goodness that your work is starting to catch fire. You’re not having to push as hard to get people to write articles or have you do speaking engagements. I hope you bring this amazing good word all across the nation and the world. What is the difference? Hybrid probably would be a little easier. What about all of our friends out there that are completely remote? How did they build friendships at work?
Hybrid is easier if we do a better job of now saying when we are coming into the office, what are we doing to maximize our relationships? Realize that some of the tasks and productivity can happen at home, but when we are together, let’s make sure we’re bonding, building memories, and getting to know each other better. We need to bring that to our workplaces.
It’s funny. I used to get hired to teach offsite and help facilitate bonding offsite, and now I’m like, “Let’s do onsite. Let’s get everyone together and maximize the time that we have together and make sure it’s focused on relationship building.” For virtual, it’s interesting because now it’s opening up the question of now we don’t automatically have people that we’re seeing on a regular basis. Think of it a little bit like I was talking earlier about how school was to kids as work is to adults. We don’t send our kids to school and say, “Today, you have a lot to learn so don’t talk to anyone, keep your head down, and don’t make friends. There’s too much drama. We don’t want to mess with being favorites.”
We don’t ever send our kids to school and encourage them not to have relationships because they’re there to learn, yet it’s so funny that we do that in the workplace. We know that kids learn better when they feel they belong in the classroom, they’re safe in the classroom, and they’re liked in the classroom. This is similar.
Think about if you decide to homeschool your child. You now don’t have this structure where they’re seeing each other, and now you have to be much more intentional to say, “I need to get them in a gymnastics class. Maybe I can sign them up for science camp. What can I do to get them together with some other homeschooling kids?” We realize that they still need that social component, but we have to be way more intentional.
For those of us who are virtual, now you don’t have the benefit necessarily. Maybe you do still on your virtual teams and stuff, but some of the loneliest professions are people who are out in the field a lot doing sales. A lot of us have to start realizing, “I need to do an inventory and need to say where I want to be most intentional in building relationships.” We have to figure out that consistency piece.
Here’s the thing. Whether we’re remote or in person, we will only bond with the people that we regularly see, which is consistency, we feel like we get to know each other, which is vulnerability, and with whom we enjoy being around and enjoying our time together, which is positivity. You can decide who you want those people to be, but you have to decide who they are.
The only two ways to build consistency are either you join or participate in something that is consistent. Some of our jobs can help do that for us, like if we join a church, if we join a book club, or if we’re in a PTA group at school, something we participate in that is regular and where we see the same people regularly.
If we don’t do that, our only other option is to initiate, schedule and create that consistency ourselves, which means we need to prioritize a few people and say, “What does that look like for me to talk to this person weekly? What does that look like for me to get together with this person on a regular basis? What can we do together?” If we don’t figure out how to spend time with some people consistently, we will end up lonely.
That is also a good reminder. I’m not a doctor. If you had these symptoms, the disclaimer is to go to your doctor or mental health professional. This is what drove some people into depression and anxiety during COVID because all of a sudden, we didn’t have the opportunity to do what you’re talking about. It wasn’t consistent, or we had to learn new ways of doing it. Thank you for sharing that.
Before we wrap up, I want to touch on a couple more things, but I wanted to ask. We have some mama bears reading, some of our moms out there. I have been to this camp too. Let’s say that I’m going to do a mom’s weekend or a mom’s evening. I feel super guilty about it. Can you comment on how modeling and being away from our kids and showing them that we have friends is a good thing?
I run into this all the time. I was referencing earlier that workshop where I would ask people to remind, “What are all the memories you have of your mom making friends?” To be clear, this is also true for boys and for fathers in an even bigger way. It’s important. I remember one woman being like, “I remember every May, my mom would kick my dad and all us kids out of the house and she would have all her girlfriends over for a weekend. It was mom’s girl’s weekend. We were always so jealous. We grew up wanting to be there and wondering what was happening. We all got kicked out of the house for the weekend and had to go spend the night at other people’s homes and stuff like that.”
“As I got older, I’d be like, ‘Can I come?’ She was like, ‘These are my friends. I hope someday you have a group of friends like this.’” She said, “My mom raised me to want this group of friends.” The more we hear stories like that, the ones who grew up seeing it are the ones who don’t feel guilty doing it. They’ve normalized it. To them, it’s like, “I’m supposed to be making time for friends.” Our pain comes more from like, “I don’t have friends to be doing this with. I need to do this.” There’s no guilt in doing it. The vast majority of us feel guilty for spending time. We still wonder if we’re spending enough quality time with our spouses. We feel like we’re not spending enough quality time with our kids.
It’s easy to justify, “I can’t do this with these friends when I’m not even doing enough over here.” Unfortunately, we live in a world that has prioritized work to such a degree that it takes up such a huge chunk of our lives. Of that 70% who didn’t have their mom’s model friendships, I was sad at first and was like, “Our moms were lonely. They did not have friends.” As I inquired and studied more, I bet a lot of them did. They probably tried to do friendship when it wouldn’t interfere with their kids’ lives. They were doing it when their kids were at school or when their kids didn’t notice. We think we’re doing a favor, but unfortunately, we then raised an entire generation that didn’t see friendship happen as an adult.
I’m like, “I want it to hurt a little. I want us to do it in front of our kids. I want us to say, ‘Tuesday nights, our when mom goes out with her friends. You got to see your friends at school today. I get to go and see my friends tonight.’” We need to create patterns and rituals where it’s normal, where it’s, “This is Tuesday night. It’s pizza night with dad, but I’m headed out,” or whatever. It’s something where we start normalizing this that it becomes something that they want, something that they grow up being excited to have.
Thank you for going off the hook there a little bit.
I talked to one woman who said that she would lie to her kids when she would go out to friends and she would tell everyone it was a work appointment because she somehow felt like that was a better thing and it was more justifiable when we were talking. That was horrible. Why would I want to make my kids think work is more important than friends? I was like, “Exactly. We’ve got to start naming what we’re doing. Come home and talk about it. Come home and tell people how much fun it was and what you did.” I would say don’t try to minimize it or hide it. I would say play it up.
I ask all of my guests this, and I’ll be excited for your response on it too. My hot seat question, only one, no pressure, is what are 1 to 2 ways you believe women can be braver at work nowadays?
One of them that comes to mind is the lowest scoring of the three requirements that continues to score the lowest when I interview teams and companies is positivity. One of the ways we can be braver is what it would look like to cheerlead more loudly for some of the other people in our workplaces, some of the other women, specifically, even when we’re jealous or feel threatened. A big act of bravery and courage is to be put ourselves as somebody known for being an advocate and a champion for others.
I sometimes feel like we’re taking something away from ourselves, but we never are. We’re always adding. I feel like being brave and cheerleading loud, expressing it, naming it, and verbalizing it is super brave. The other thing I would say is to practice having friends and not feeling guilty, hiding it, or feeling like it’s something to be ashamed of.
The healthiest and most successful people have close friends. The happiest people have close friends. The best employees have best friends. We don’t need to feel ashamed about this. We don’t need to hide this. We can start talking about our friendship. In my book, I’m clear about how we do it in a way that’s inclusive at work, how we do it where our friendship blesses other people, where it’s never exclusive, and where we never have people feeling left out.The healthiest and most successful people have close friends. Click To Tweet
If the two of us feel closer to each other and bring some joy to the room, it helps everybody if we can include everybody in that and help create safety and let our friendship be a blessing to others. I would say let go of the guilt. I can’t wave a magic wand and make that happen, but this matters so much to our future, our happiness, and our health.
I got that loud and clear. I can’t believe that we’re already at the end of our time. I could talk to you on and on. I wanted to thank you for being on. I want to make sure that if you are needing resources, please go and watch Shasta’s TEDx Talk. It’s good. Go and pick up one or all of these books again. The main titles are Friendships Don’t Just Happen, Frientimacy, and The Business of Friendships. Shasta, where can women find you, your books, and your overall work online?
ShastaNelson.com is my website. I do a lot of keynote speaking and a lot of coming into companies, working with teams and working with organizations on onsite days, all hands days, and stuff like that. I’m always happy to work more closely with you in a work capacity. I also lead women’s trips twice a year for fun.
We have one coming up to Turkey. These ones are already sold out. We’re going to Argentina, and I will be in Tanzania in 2024. I’m announcing another one. That’s all on ShastaNelson.com. They’re called Travel Circles. These are fun groups of fifteen women traveling to different parts of the world. We don’t know each other when we start off and come home with friends, laughter, and lots of memories. That’s fun. I’m on Instagram and LinkedIn. I’m happy to connect with you anywhere.
I love the travel piece. That is pretty exciting. I’m like, “Tanzania, hello.”
They’re so fun. They’re not big money-makers for me, but I always love doing them. I come home so happy. It’s like we’re magic where you’re fifteen strangers coming together, and we travel and it’s so fun. I can’t stop doing these. They are fun.
I’m going to be stalking your site to be like checking out all of the interesting places you guys are going, and maybe you’ll see me on a trip.
That would be amazing.
That would be fun. Shasta, thank you so much for giving me and all the audience your time. I know you’re busy out there and creating great work in the world. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure having you on.
Thank you for caring about the subject and covering it. I admire any leader that is willing to talk about it and share it. Kudos to you. Thank you.
That’s a wrap of my conversation with Shasta. I hope you found our discussion both valuable and inspiring. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts and Stitcher. Until next time, show up, treasure your friendships, and be brave.
- Shasta Nelson
- Friendships Don’t Just Happen
- The Business of Friendship
- The Three Requirements of All Healthy Friendships
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About Shasta Nelson
Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert, is a leading voice on loneliness and creating healthy relationships. Whether she’s speaking at conferences or on TEDx stages, giving media interviews to outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, or appearing as a guest on The Harvard Business Review podcast or The Steve Harvey Show, she is constantly teaching all of us how to create healthier and more fulfilling relationships in our lives.
Her research and wisdom can also be found in her 3 books: Friendships Don’t Just Happen! teaches us how to make new friends as adults, Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness teaches us how to make our relationships more meaningful and healthy, and her newest book The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of the Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time teaches us why we need to foster better relationships in our jobs.