Do You Know The Value of Your Social Capital at Work?

I was lunching on a salad in a bustling restaurant with a former boss. We talked about the infiltration of electronic devices in the workplace – and particularly how we use them for communication. Sometimes we misuse them.

We each have our own preferred method of communication at work, no matter what our generation. The bottom line is, aside from your method of choice, how you say things is as important as what you say, particularly when it comes to building social capital.

What is social capital and why is it important?

You probably have been in a meeting when someone’s smartphone pings. They look at it, scowl and turn the phone face down. You don’t want to be the reason a person does that. If they scowl at your email, text or call, your social capital is low.

What is social capital? A formal definition based on the work of Pierre Bourdieu is: value that can be derived from social participation and cooperation. To apply it to our context, I describe it as people willing to go out of their way to help each other. You can’t BUY this. That’s why I’m using the term social capital. It’s all about your awareness and treatment of others.

If they always look at your emails or texts first, for instance, you’ve created great social capital. If someone is pleased to hear your voice or see you coming you’ve created high social capital.

Increase your capital through thoughtful (and professional) gestures.

Communication is one way to influence people to cooperate with you, get work done, or have a favor granted. I’m not suggesting manipulation for devious purposes. I am suggesting creating goodwill and trust so people are happy to help you.

Here are 10 tips, some of which may seem obvious, but just in case:

  1. When your email goes beyond 3 paragraphs, reconsider whether it should be a conversation instead.
  2. Particularly in an important conversation, paraphrase what you heard so they know you understood.
  3. When others make a request, ask them when they need it. Negotiate if necessary.
  4. If you are running a meeting, create an agenda. Bonus points for sending it ahead of time.
  5. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak in the meeting you are running. Ask everyone to jot down an answer and go around the room if you have to.
  6. Don’t interrupt a person who is speaking.
  7. If it looks like someone started to speak but the crowd swallowed up their comment go back and make room for them to speak. You can do this even if you are not running the meeting.
  8. When you forward a long email thread, explain what you want the recipient to "get."
  9. When you make a request, be clear about what you want/need them to do.
  10. Be attentive to timing when you communicate. If it’s off-hours, and you don’t need an answer then, make that plain.

Good manners are always welcomed.

As I was finishing this post, I received an email from someone who has high social capital with me. I had emailed her yesterday and was eager for her reply.

Here it is, paraphrased: “Sending a quick acknowledgment that I received your email and that I want to take a look at your programs and materials to best help you. This week it’s back-to-back meetings, but I'd like to look over things and get back to you early next week. I'll be back in touch to help in the best way possible.”

Just to clarify, we are not in a paying relationship. She is not making good on any financial arrangement. This woman added another point to our list.

Confirm that you’ve received what the other person would consider an important message.

She took the time to set expectations and reinforce how she values our mutual arrangement. Some people would move on from my email without replying because, after all, they are in meetings all week.

The digitalization of the world is inevitable. Whether you are using a device or talking face-to-face, excellent communication takes effort. The effort you do put into it will pay off in innumerable ways to build your social capital.

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