Skip to main content

Humans Can't Juggle More Than 5 Friends At Once

Just as you're deciding whether or not to connect with somebody you don't know on LinkedIn, here comes new research that finds we humans can't handle more than five "friends" at once!

That's right: we humans can only handle so much "social" in our social networking. This finding isn't new -- one study found we can't handle more than 132 social media connections, max -- but now researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia tell us that our true social network is limited to five people, or fewer.

The researchers compared the world's "hunter-gatherer" societies to status-updating societies and found that no matter our lifestyle, our brains tend to develop an emotional attachment to a very, very small number of people. Because biology. As Phys.org reports:

HarrĂ© and Prokopenko suggest the upper limit on the number of direct friends for most people is about five. The upper limits appear to be based on biology, they note—as the human brain developed, people were living together in small groups that lived as hunter-gatherers. That led to the development of links, which are direct connections between two people, generally two people that have some type of emotional attachment. To form a larger group, it isn't necessary for every person in that group to form a connection with everyone else, all it takes is for a network of connections to exist.

So what do we do when there's more than five people online, or in the room? Well, we think to ourselves: "Those are so-and-so's friends more than mine, so I'll just let so-and-so fill me in on all the important details and juicy gossip from those friends later." We humans like to keep our direct interactions organized, easy and strictly limited in number. It turns out that Friends had one friend too many!


How could this study play out in the workplace? If our "group" has 15 people, then we will create a closer social link to only three of the members. Expand the group to 45 people, and we'll expand our social link within the group to...four people. Basically, we deal with networking by forming small hierarchies within the larger group. Subgroups, if you will.

This is where leadership is crucial to keep any group moving forward together as disparate, distinct subgroups within a group of 45. Hey everyone, let's go this way!

It's also interesting to put this study in the context of social media, which has been all about accumulating as many friends and followers as possible. As hiring managers scan applicants' social media footprints, they may be asking all the wrong questions. Maybe it's not how many connections an applicant has, it's how many of these connections the applicant is actually close to on a regular basis.

Who represents their core group, and why? The applicant may have 1,500 Facebook friends and 5,000+ LinkedIn connections, but who are the five essential people on both sites who get the lion's share of the applicant's attention and keep them connected to the larger online group?** This small detail could be quite illuminating for a hiring manager, actually.

To me, this "quality over quantity" approach to online connections represents the next phase of social media. Social media users will begin to refine their unwieldy social media networks just like a major A-list celebrity who follows only 50 people because it's too overwhelming to follow everyone, all the time. Within a few years, it will become professionally acceptable to say out loud in a job interview:

"I'm connected to only 40 essential people on LinkedIn and that works well for me. Of those 40, I pay attention to five on a daily basis. They're the ones who keep me linked in with what's going on in my field."

LinkedIn probably isn't going to like it, but your brain sure will! I have a feeling smart hiring managers will come around to the idea, too.

** Your mother better be on your Facebook short list!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…