It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“People are exponentially more likely to form a relationship—to click—with people who live or work close by. Even passive contacts can be a powerful influence on whom we click with. The old adage that familiarity breeds contempt just isn’t true. In fact, familiarity actually breeds regard. … It makes much more sense in a business setting to attend a meeting in person than to dial in, to walk over to a colleague’s or employee’s desk rather than sending an e-mail. It makes more sense to simply stand closer to someone you want to meet at a party than to look across a crowded room.” (Click: The Magic of Instant Connections, Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman)
It’s not all that surprising that proximity contributes to friendship. My entire blog is a case in point. I love my friends in New York, but when you’ve got 700 miles between you, it’s tough to keep up that daily talking-about-nothing that makes a friendship feel effortless.
In their new book Click, Ori and Rom Brafman dissect the different factors that cause two people to hit it off, ingredients they call “click accelerators.” The five accelerators are: proximity, vulnerability, resonance, similarity and a safe place. Today I’m just talking proximity. Like I said, it seems obvious, but just how important physical nearness is in determining who will click is kind of amazing.
Take the study that examined friendships between police academy cadets. The sociologist who conducted the study found that shared interests had little to do with who clicked—“A bachelor who liked to watch football, for example, was just as likely to form a friendship with a family man who attended church every Sunday as he was with a fellow sports fan who was similarly single.” Instead, simply sitting next to each other in school was the determining factor. In fact, “when the cadets listed the people with whom they had formed a close relationships, 90 percent named the individual they sat right next to.” Once someone was sitting a mere few seats away, the chances of the two clicking were dramatically reduced.
So it’s not necessarily about both living and working in the same city. It’s about the same block. Or better yet, the same building. The same room! An extra few feet between two people might be the very reason they never make BFF status.
I used to think the instant click with my new BFF would happen magically, when we discovered we adored the same novel or obscure dance movie. Our mutual affection for Owen Meany and Honey would be the tie that binded us. But this research has me convinced that while shared passions may be a happy coincidence, shared space is the true connector.
What is it about proximity that makes it the “single most important factor in determining whether or not you connect with another person”? The fact that physical nearness provides opportunities for spontaneous small talk. “It is in ‘fleeting’ conversational moments…that relationships…are nurtured, preserved and managed.”
In the end, clicking could be a matter of luck. Of getting a seat assignment next to the right person in class. Or on the airplane. But knowledge is power, and I can’t stop thinking about all the ways I’ll use this science to my advantage. I’m giving up the “glance across the crowded room.” When I spot my next BFF prospect (victim?) I’m going to cozy up—sit next to her in a restaurant, stand behind her in line at the grocery store, downward dog alongside her on the yoga mat. Not all three of course. I’m going for friend, not uber-creepy stalker lady. Fine line.
Think it’ll work for me? When you look back at your friendships, did any of them start by the shear luck of proximity? Does the power of proximity surprise you?