Does your family have its own Manchester United t-shirt?

Make use of this slightly silly communication research to build kindness and camaraderie on your own team -- and in your own family

To those of you who found me yesterday via the generous Prof. Emily Oster, welcome!

I hope this weekly Friday newsletter helps you do three things:

  1. Become even more successful at your personal and professional goals using communication research

  2. Develop ever-closer personal and professional relationships (yes, using communication research)

  3. Share a little silly fun at the start of the weekend, such as learning all about The Tooth Fairy

Today’s silly: Want your family members to be nicer to each other? Get your own Manchester United t-shirts.

Here’s your weird idea of the day: Your family and/or team might benefit from silly, superficial points of sartorial commonality like a fan t-shirt.

In 2015, researchers at Lancaster University demonstrated that Manchester United soccer fans were more helpful to an injured stranger wearing a Manchester United fan shirt than they were to people wearing non-soccer shirts.

Interestingly, our Manchester fans were almost as helpful to people wearing soccer shirts of a competing club than no soccer shirt, so a shared soccer allegiance seemed to be important, too.

The study isn’t exactly like your family or team. The participants were primed with questionnaires asking them to identify themselves as fans. And the befallen are strangers. But that’s hardly the only study of this kind at all.

Another study shows that similarity of dress affects how charitable people are to others. These participants were more likely to give loose change to feed a parking meter to someone who is dressed similarly to how they were dressed than they were to give money to someone dressed differently from them.

There are lots of ways to increase this effect, like “mirroring” one another’s gestures, word choice, and intonation, but I’m going full silly today.

The desire for in-grouping seems to me as a parent to be one of the most powerful forces in childhood and adolescence. We will look at lots of ways to create in-grouping in your family and team regardless of ages. But eventually, “come hang out with Mom” doesn’t work so well, and we know that much of communication is nonverbal. So the superficial sartorial similarities may be the easiest ones to access from time to time.

I think they have to choose the clothes themselves.

Obviously, the research shown above assumes that adult Manchester United fans chose to dress themselves — and that they weren’t made by their parent to put on a uniform they hate.

And of course, I’m not talking about work uniforms, unless your work uniforms are awesome.

And I’m not talking about campy family photos or ugly sweater contests — unless that’s your thing, of course.

I’m talking about the clothes that you chose. Clothes that identify your interests and affiliations. Christmas jammies. If you can align those among your team or family, you have one tiny step toward creating additional charitable behavior. And as we used to say in venture capital, “A billion here, a billion there: pretty soon it adds up to real money!”

“IDWAI”: Make your own literal (or metaphoric) team t-shirts

Each Friday newsletter will include an Incredibly Dumb Weekend Activity Idea (IDWAI, pronounced “I-D-Why!?”) in support of the concept in that week’s newsletter.

Younger kids: I was surprised at how long my own kids were willing to wear matchy-matchy clothes so long as they chose them. (Truth is, they still are!) You can ask your younger kids - and their cousins! - if they want to dress the same, literally. They can make or pick the outfits. Selfies galore. You could have them design a matching t-shirt for a family occasion with fabric markers and some Hanes undershirts. You can do Christmas jammies or any other shared occasion uniform. You can even have them make Team Smith t-shirts if your kids are young enough to be willing to wear ‘em.

Teens and tweens: A fun friend of mine “hosts” theme dinners once a week for her quarantining family of five. She’s done a 50s night, an all-green night, and nights related to cultural phenomena. Dressing up along the same theme isn’t exactly dressing the same, but if you could combine theme night with an activity for minimal tween/teen eye rolls, you might all end up wearing matchy-matchy sports jerseys. I also love family Halloween and Purim costumes if everyone’s into it.

Adults: In his book Give and Take, Wharton Professor Adam Grant suggests making one professional introduction per week to people who may have something unusual in common. So if you’re reading this blog purely to strengthen your adult collaborations, that’s one way to do it. But it can’t be a “husband date:” The thing you have in common can’t be “You’re a guy and he’s a guy.” They have to be relatively uncommon commonalities to render the desired effect. And if the network you’re trying to build is a family network, you may want to focus on connecting distant family members.

When my husband turned 40, as a sort of joke, I designed a tongue-in-cheek Coat of Arms for our family. (How tongue-in-cheek? I had a Classics professor friend to translate “Are you gonna eat that?” into Latin for the bottom ribbon part of the crest, and there is a monkey (our family animal) on it.) I didn’t realize how much my silliness was research-based! Coats of Arms have fallen out of fashion, but you could design one, too. If you do design a Coat of Arms or a family plaid, please upload it here! Mine is so silly that I don’t want to upload it here, but I do have it on an apron! :)

About me

If you’re new here, I’m Lydia. I’m a mom of four kids (and wife to one adult), business owner, and former business-school teacher who tries to help people become more successful professionally and personally through improved communication and collaboration in their closest relationships.

I am deeply interested in teaching my children to support one another in the achievement of their personal and professional goals, and I have spent years now interviewing and surveying loved ones who have done business successfully and unsuccessfully together. I use my two degrees in computer science from MIT and an MBA from The Wharton School plus 20 years in business to inform this work and translate it into useful ideas for business leaders and family leaders alike.

Ways to contribute

  1. Please comment below to share your Coats of Arms, your Family Plaids, and your ideas for how to use this research for improved communication and collaboration.

  1. Add to the thread about IDWAI suggestions if you have any for future newsletters.

  2. If you have any friends who might enjoy increasing closeness in personal and professional relationships through silliness, communication, and collaboration, please share this post or this Substack with them.

Thank you and happy weekending!


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