Making a difference through micro connections

Wavemaker's Chief Growth Officer, Katie Lee, argues that making a positive impact begins with those everyday interactions

‘Isn’t it amazing, making a difference?’

I must have been asked that at least weekly in my role as CEO of Clementine — a mental health app for women — but it’s not something I’d ever been asked in my previous 20 years working in advertising.

While I’m no longer working in mental health, I’ve realised that a return to the advertising industry doesn’t mean I can’t still have a positive impact on the lives of those around me.

When I think about making a difference, the things that make the most difference to my everyday mood are micro-connections: those almost indiscernible moments that make up your day. Be it a smile to the same commuters you see each day, your tea order from the hut on the station platform, or a shared eye roll with someone witnessing what you are — these fleeting interactions make us feel connected to something bigger, part of a community.

In fact, I firmly believe that the cumulative effect of these small rushes of oxytocin makes the world go round. I didn’t realise how much I missed them during the pandemic, where masks meant you didn’t connect in the same way. Any nuanced connection was all but impossible on screen and all work interactions were fully intentional. We’ve all talked a lot about missed spontaneity in the workplace but it’s those micro-connections that I’ve missed more.

And we shouldn’t forget how critical these small positive interactions are for all of our mental and physical health. According to neuroscientist Julianne Holt-Lunstadt (2015), social connections are a critical factor for survival. Even the briefest moments of connection can make a positive difference in our lives.

So how can we bring back the micro connection? And what are the benefits for agency life?

I’m aware that lots of people would rather stick pins in their eyes than engage with strangers, so here are some small steps to help you find and nurture those all important micro connections:

Let go of your inner Brit

Spending a year in Australia made me realise just how awful we are at speaking to strangers in this country. In Australia, you’re given recipe tips at the supermarket checkout and travel tips on the metro. I remember being so depressed when I got back to the stony faces in the UK, but it’s amazing how chatty people will be if you’re bold enough to make the first move. In an industry that prides itself on understanding audience, speaking to strangers should be something we challenge ourselves with daily!

Don’t be afraid of small talk

I’m writing this in the eye of Storm Eunice, having just read a post from the always-excellent The SelfSpace who say ‘no matter how banal the topic can be, small talk reminds us that we are in the world. It reassures us that we are not just swimming around frantically in our own minds, caught by a riptide of overthinking and self-critical inner dialogue’. So in direct contradiction to my previous advice; when it comes to small talk, embrace your inner Brit and talk about the weather to your heart’s content!

Get out there!

If you’re still working from home full time then make sure you get out there and engage in the world around you, even if it’s just saying hello to your barista or having a quick conversation with the postman. You’ll still get that vital dopamine hit and it gives you some much-needed time looking outwards, which is vital in our industry.

Don’t be shy

I’d say only 1 in 50 of my attempted micro connections is met with a stony face! Mostly people are desperate to engage and often brings others into the conversation too. Occasionally I’m left looking like a mad-woman but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Start small

In starting small, you can often segue into a much deeper chat and rescue someone when they most need it. We never know what others are going through and those micro-connections can be a non-intrusive invitation for people to take the lead. This is especially important in an industry as high-pressured and fast-paced as ours, where good people management can make or break a pitch or client project.

So, as we start to look forward, and recover from the impact of the last few years on all of our mental and physical health, let’s remember that a single micro-connection can make a huge difference to someone’s day. And if we all had faith in the difference that we can make in our own circle of influence then the effect would be far reaching and exponentially positive.

Featured image: Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

Katie Lee

Katie is Chief Growth Officer at WaveMaker UK.

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