11/10/2014 06:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Social Connections and Their Positive Impact


As a teacher, I was once asked to choose a student who was not my favorite; the challenge was to focus on that student for the next month. Every time I saw him, I was to offer some type of greeting that included a reference to anything the student found interesting. Suggested topics included pets, sports or other extracurriculars, a vacation, a special interest, or something positive where you witnessed his involvement.

"Hey, John, I saw you make that great assist during the basketball game yesterday! Impressive!"

"John, you love stuff about the Titanic, right? Me, too! You are not going to believe what I found! It's on the table in the reading corner. Take a look; I'd love to know what you think. "

Nothing was to be mentioned regarding appearance, like an outfit or a new haircut. There were also no comments about grades or class participation. Everything was to be totally focused on what that child had accomplished or in which he had an interest beyond the classroom arena, and all towards building a relationship, exactly like you would do when building a regular friendship with a peer. The goal of the activity was to build or improve a student/teacher relationship, because it's that connection that makes a student care what you think. It's what makes him want to impress you and makes him want to see that you are proud of his behavior or accomplishments, or that you just notice him for who he is. And guess what? It worked! My former "pain in the neck" ended up being this fabulous kid!

Ever since being given that assignment with a student, I have tried using the same strategy in business and social situations. The biggest lesson I learned from that experience is that everyone, without exception, responds to people who show they care about you.

Can you think of someone of whom you have a negative impression? Maybe they sit alone, or seldom make eye contact. Instead of deciding that that person isn't worth your time, try devoting a few minutes each time you have the opportunity to develop a relationship. Do this, not because you want something from that person, but simply because you are a person who cares about other people and building a community of support. You will find great benefit from expanding your relationships whether you are doing this in the workplace, or home/social life. And you will benefit as much, if not more, than the other person.

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of positive relationships on overall well-being when teacher/student relationships are positive. The same is true for all adult relationships. Kahneman, Diener, and Schwartz, with input from David G. Myers, highlight the fact that close relationships have a tremendous impact on quality of life, focusing on the affect of social acceptance on health and self-concept.

What does this information have to do with you? It might be time for you to look around and see whose life, in addition to your own, you can change for the better.

  • Take the time to look someone in the eye and ask what's new or how they're doing. You never know what difficulties they might be facing and a kind word from someone new might make all the difference.
  • Thank someone who works for or with you. You may say thank you on a regular basis, but stopping to write a note or verbally express extra gratitude for how this person positively impacts your days is a message anyone would appreciate hearing.
  • Tell someone you notice the extra effort they are putting forth. Whether at work, school, or in an extracurricular, how wonderful they will feel knowing that someone noticed!

It seems so easy... such a small thing. But as much as you would enjoy hearing those words from a friend or colleague, so would others.

And, by the way, you are doing a great job. Thank you for your efforts.

Dr. Wolbe can be contacted via her website at