As I write this, our country is in the midst of a record pace of people leaving their jobs, a phenomenon dubbed “The Great Resignation.” To be employers of choice, we need to actively provide a culture that will help attract and retain quality team members. One thing that people universally crave is to feel connected to others with whom they work. Dr. Dean Ornish speaks to this by saying, “The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food.”
Michael Stallard has written a great book entitled Connection Culture. He and his team have identified three types of work cultures:
Culture of Control: This culture is marked by people with power ruling over others.
Culture of Indifference: People are so busy with tasks that they fail to invest time to develop healthy, supportive relationships. People are treated as mere means to an end rather than human beings who are valuable in and of themselves.
Culture of Connection: This culture intentionally develops both task AND relationship excellence. People care about others and care about the work because it benefits other human beings. This is the culture I want to lead and be part of – what about you? The importance of being socially connected to others cannot be overstated. The sad news is that in recent surveys, over 60% of adults report being lonely, and depression and harmful addictions are at all-time highs. In contrast, research has shown numerous benefits from connection with others, including:
· 50% reduced rate of early death
· Improved physical, emotional, and mental health
· Higher productivity, higher quality work, better customer service, fewer accidents, lower absenteeism
How can we build strong connections with people and reap the benefits for them and the teams and stakeholders (investors, customers, and employees) we serve?
10 Principles to Connect with People Well
1) Commit to connect. The starting place for developing stronger connections with people is to make a conscious choice to do so. Do you really want to connect better? If yes, commit to taking intentional steps to build deeper connections. The other principles will give you ideas to consider.
2) Develop a genuine care for people. We can only connect well with people when we value and care for them. We need to not take people for granted and let them know we care and appreciate them. Valerie Elster reminds us that, “Expressing gratitude is a natural state of being and reminds us that we are all connected.”
Every person is important, as Bill McCartney emphasizes when he says, “Anytime you devalue people, you question God’s creation of them.” Part of caring for people is to be honest, genuine, and transparent. Let people see our hearts of caring and compassion – and they will respond and feel closer to us. One of my often-used quotes is, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Caring includes intentionally working on helping meet the seven workplace needs that experts have identified: respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth, meaning, and progress. We also need to develop the ability to empathize – mutual empathy is a powerful connector that is made possible by mirror neurons in our brains.
3) Be proactive – initiate movement towards them. It’s tempting to sit back and let others try and connect with us. But as leaders we need to be proactive and take the initiative. Management experts Tom Peters and Nancy Austin concluded, “The number one managerial productivity problem in America is, quite simply, managers are out of touch with their people and out of touch with customers.”
4) Look for common ground. Probably my favorite leadership expert is John Maxwell. I agree with John when he says, “Anytime you want to connect with another person, start where both of you agree. And that means finding common ground.” There are lots of potential areas of common ground – ranging from personal interests to life experiences to values and beliefs. The key to finding common ground? Listening.
5) Be a good listener. Rachel Naomi Remen advises that, “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention … A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” I like the practical advice from Dale Carnegie (author of the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People) who said, “You can make more friends in two weeks by becoming a good listener than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.” Final tip: let's be present in our conversations (engaged, interested, paying attention) keeping in mind the concept that “attention is the oxygen of relationships.”
6) Recognize and respect differences. While we should be looking to find common ground with others, we also need to acknowledge that we’re all different. Our differences and diversity make our lives more interesting and can strengthen our team performance as we blend our diverse backgrounds and abilities together to make us stronger.
7) Share common experiences. To really connect well with others, we need to find a way to cement the relationship. Joseph Newton said, “People are lonely (disconnected) because they build walls instead of bridges.” To build bridges that connect you to people in a lasting way, share common experiences with them. Share meals. Go to a ball game or other events together. Take people to meetings with you. Participate on work projects together. For remote workers, creatively seek video-based fun activities such as online parties, games, etc. Anything we experience together helps create a common history and build connection.
8) Get out of our physical and/or virtual office. The reality is that there are increasing expectations on managers to produce more results with the same or fewer resources – and that can drive us into our offices to get our personal work done. But we need to intentionally carve out times to practice MBWA (Management by Walking Around) when working in physical work locations. And when working virtually, we need to intentionally have screen time with our team members. I have to admit that I’ve not always been as consistent with touching base with people as I would like – how are you doing?
9) Be a giver – provide help and share knowledge and resources. Commit to being a servant leader who gives of oneself to help meet the needs of others. We can give of our time, knowledge, and resources to help people around us. Giving of ourselves is the ultimate win-win that benefits both the receiver and the giver. Winston Churchill says, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Anne Frank reminds us that, "No one has ever become poor by giving.”
10) Once connected, move forward. There is value in building deeper connections with people just for relationship’s sake. But there is even more value when we use our connections with people to add value to our team’s key stakeholders and drive towards a better future. Someone once said, “Leadership is cultivating in people today a future willingness on their part to follow you into something new for the sake of something great.” Connection helps create that willingness.
One more tip: remember to stay positive and remember the magical five to one ratio (to maximize relationships, we need to average at least five positive interactions for every one that is negative/constructive). Here is a closing quote from Michael Stallard: “Connection transforms a dog-eat-dog environment into a sled dog team that pulls together.” Let’s focus on building connected “sled dog teams”!