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  • Writer's pictureSophie Bostock, PhD

Is sleep the key to successful networking?

The 25 tonne door to the bank vault at The Ned

It’s not every day that I get invited to hang out in a bank vault. But then, The Ned is not an everyday sort of place. 

The sumptuous London city members’ club was once the HQ of the Midland Bank, designed by Sir Edwin 'Ned' Lutyens’. It’s now home to a plush hotel, restaurants, gym, swanky spa, roof terrace with rooftop pool, and even a hammam. I lost count of the number of bars. 

I was particularly struck by the walk-in vault, for 3 reasons:

Goldfinger advert, 1964

Firstly, the shiny 25-tonne door looked familiar.

It was the inspiration for the vault in one of my favourite Bond movies, Connery’s 1964 classic: Goldfinger.

Secondly, it seemed somewhat ironic that I was giving a talk about sleep adjacent to a 24-hour cocktail lounge…

Thirdly, it struck me that I was there to convince people to invest in their sleep, and treat it with as much care and attention that was once devoted to the deposits of £335 million that sat in the vault.

It’s all about the people

I didn’t dare ask how much it costs to be a member at The Ned, but the lavishness of the surroundings makes it safe to assume that it’s more than your local leisure centre. But you can visit plenty of smart bars and boutique hotels in London, so why make the investment?

My guess is that it’s all about the people.

The members I spoke to didn’t want to just be there, they wanted to bring their buddies and clients, and meet other members. It’s a hub for old school, face-to-face, put-your-phone-back-in-your-pocket personal communication.

If the city is the capital’s engine room for commerce, places like The Ned provide the oil that greases the wheels. 

So why is meeting in person so important?

Presence, Amy Cuddy 2016

In Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence, she argues that people size each other up on the the basis of:

1. warmth “Can I trust this person?”

2. competence “Can I respect this person?”. 

Trust is the first step because, from an evolutionary perspective, we worried far more about trusting that our fellow cave dwellers wouldn’t kill us while we slept, than their competence at preparing a tasty gazelle hotpot. 

So how do you know if you can trust someone? 

Eye contact seems to be a pretty good shortcut to trust. Infants who are just days old preferentially stare into faces that gaze back. Locking eyes with another person causes our awareness of our own gut reactions to become more acute. It also requires considerable brain power. 

We’re more likely to believe statements made by a person who looks us in the eye - but only up to a point.. Research suggests that 3 seconds is about right, stare for too long and you’re verging on psychopath territory. Slightly dilated pupils, signifying arousal and attraction, are good for trust, whereas constricted pupils are a sign of fear, and are judged less trustworthy. 

So what’s all this got to do with sleep?

A word of caution before your all nighter in The Ned’s cocktail vault to seal that deal.. 

It turns out that when we’re sleep deprived, we become less good at judging others’ facial expressions. Our brains associate sleep deprivation with being under threat, putting us on high alert. We struggle to manage our emotions after a late night, and tend to be more irritable, low or anxious. Some research suggests we're more likely to misinterpret facial expressions as threatening, which is not a great recipe for enhancing trust.

Goldstein-Piekarski et al 2015, The Journal of Neuroscience

Sleep deprived faces tend to be rated less physically attractive than their well rested counterparts. While this is of more potential relevance to dating than networking, there is some research suggesting that people who are more physically attractive make more money

Interestingly, lack of sleep also causes our own pupils to shrink, and our pupil size becomes less stable - delivering an unconscious message to your drinking buddy that you are not to be trusted!

So in conclusion, if you’re investing in a wonderful environment for eating, drinking and networking, make sure you invest in being there in tip top condition - and that means protecting your sleep.. 

Thank you to Robina, at The Ned, for the invitation. I very much hope to be back before long for another talk, and to look a few folks in the eye, before heading home for an early night. 

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