Although we don't discuss it much, one of the most powerful influences on our personal and professional development is our peer groups. The people with whom we engage in regular conversations and interactions shape the questions that we ask, the problems that we see, how we approach our work and our sense of identity as professionals.
One thing I've been paying more attention to in the past year is the quality of my peer circles and the impact that my professional colleagues have on me. I started noticing that some people were really energizing and inspiring to be around, while other people tended to pull me down into the suck. Some people exposed me to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new questions and a focus on the awesome, while others seemed to see only the same old problems and no real solutions.
Since I started paying attention to my professional peer networks, I've started becoming more intentional about my connections. I've begun limiting the amount of time I spend engaging with people who can only focus on what sucks and have been actively seeking to expand my connections to people who want to work on creating what's awesome. This has had a profoundly positive influence on my work and my thinking.
What I've realized, though, is that if we are not consciously thinking about what is going on with our peer networks, it's very easy to be pulled into a negative orbit. This is especially problematic if we are in a negative workplace and the majority of our professional interactions are with our co-workers. It becomes mission critical for us to find and connect with people who have a more positive perspective--those who want to work on building the awesome.
For me, connecting with positive peers has been a two-step process. First is noticing the influence that different people have on me. I pay attention to how I feel when I interact with them. Do I leave an interaction feeling excited and energized and ready to follow-up on something we've discussed? That's a person I want to connect to more.
The second thing I've been doing is looking for new people who share the qualities of those people who are currently in my network that have proven to be positive influences. Typically this means people who are curious, creative, focused on positive questions rather than on "problems," and who want to make a real difference. If I see people like this in a LinkedIn Group or some other on-line network, I try to make a special effort to reach out to them. I'm also intentionally looking for these connections in face-to-face interactions and purposely seeking them out to connect. I even tell them WHY I want to connect--because I see and value these qualities, which automatically improves the connection.
Throughout all of this, I've also tried to be more aware of how I am connecting to other people--am I being the change I'm looking for in my world? This shift has forced me to look at the ways in which I'm negative, problem-focused, uninspiring, etc. I have had to look at how I can shift my own habits of interaction to be a positive peer, rather than a negative one.
This process of forming positive peer networks and looking at my own actions as a peer has been one of the more important professional development practices I've engaged in this year.
How are you forming the connections that are going to be most supportive for you? And how are you looking at your own behavior in this process?