Life isn’t meant to be lived alone. Not only do we need food and shelter to survive, but we also need socialization. In fact, the National Institute on Aging reports that positive interactions can reduce the levels of Interleukin-6, an inflammatory factor, found with disorders like cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease. But, what happens when those closest to you – your friends or clique – are negative and emotionally destructive? I had the opportunity to see first-hand the effects of negativity when a colleague and I met for dinner a few years ago at a popular Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh.
The story begins…
Our waitress, Kathy, was nice, but obviously a bit insecure. She said things like, “I’m new here,” or “Oh…. um…let me see,” when we asked specific questions about menu items. Her insecurity didn’t come out so much in what she said, but more in how she said it. She was fidgety, didn’t maintain eye contact, and just lacked a general sense of confidence. We tried to be overly encouraging and engaging with her throughout our meal. After all, we all know how uncomfortable it is to be the “new guy” at work, right?
In an attempt to be nice, my colleague complimented Kathy on her hair. She immediately downplayed the compliment and revealed that she lives with feelings of low self-esteem. Kathy went on to tell us that it’s challenging to believe anything good about herself. We were struck by the speed at which our dinner went to a “couch conversation,” but having the opportunity to support another woman is one that doesn’t come along every day. So, we took it!
Our conversation with Kathy quickly went to one question – who is in your posse? You may think of gangs or even armed men enforcing the law when you hear the word posse. It’s critical to know that a posse can be any group of people you spend time with regularly. It might be your friends, family, or coworkers. Your posse can be positive and uplifting, or it might be filled with negativity and destructive criticism. Modern posses include neighborhood clubs, social organizations, and even nursing units. We wanted to know if she had friends and colleagues around her who were positive, motivating, and encouraging.
Once we asked Kathy to tell us about her group of friends (her posse), she began to cry. She told us that her entire life had been filled with people telling her that she wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough to accomplish anything. It started with her childhood friends and continued into her adult life. She said that anytime she talked about going to school or wanting a better life, her closest friends criticized her and her goals. After hearing this negativity her entire life, Kathy started to believe that she wasn’t good enough.
I use this conversation to illustrate the dangers of being surrounded by a clique who doesn’t add to who you are as a person or a professional. Negativity and poor work attitudes can be found in just about any workplace. In healthcare, the effects of a negative posse not only affect things like job satisfaction, retention, and productivity, but has also been found to negatively influence patient outcomes.
Consider Your Current Group of “Friends”
So, what should you do if you think your friends may be doing more harm than good? Finding the right friends doesn’t only impact your self-esteem. In a professional setting, it can affect your success and ability to get the most out of your career. If you aren’t sure you are surrounded by the right people, here are a few strategies you can try:
- Practice self-reflection
The first question to ask yourself when you practice self-reflection is where you want to be in one, five, or ten years. Write down your goals and then choose someone in your current group who you feel can support you throughout the journey to achieve the goal. If you can’t name one person in your current group who can help support and encourage you as you go back to school, obtain certification, or explore a career in management, it might be time to find a new group of friends.
- Change your current posse
If you surround yourself with positivity, you will become a more positive person. Inject a healthy dose of positivity by encouraging others in your group and modeling good posse behavior. Lift people up, inspire others, and change negative conversations into positive ones. This simple strategy could shift the tone of your posse from negative to positive.
- Know when to leave
Sometimes there is nothing you can do except leave your current clique behind. Life is too short to spend your time with negative people.
Taking a quick inventory of your posse can provide clarity about where you are and where you want to be in the future. After we gave Kathy this same advice, she said that she had the same friend group for a long time, but that she knew it was time to find a new group. As we walked away, we knew we had given her a big tip (money and advice) and that she had given us good service, a delicious meal, and the satisfaction of building up another person.
Remember that you are responsible for your success. This not only includes developing new skills and building a career but also surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and your abilities. It doesn’t matter if you call those closest to you, your family, friends, or coworkers; you must be able to call them a positive influence on your life!