How Can You Connect at Work?
Last night, as I was surrounded by the beaming faces of the group that had just gone through OnStage together, we were talking about what had transpired over the course of the day and one person said, “Well, we really know each other now, and that’s a big change!”
Yes. It’s true. They really knew each other. I smiled and said, “You know…we’ve spent just a little over 8 hours together, and look at how connected you all are! Think about all the people you’ve worked with…who you’ve been working with for years…and yet don’t know one another nearly this well. This feeling you have right now isn’t something that’s only accessible here, it’s accessible to you every day. “
I find it interesting how people tend to eschew connectedness in the workplace and yet what a powerful force it can be. We tend to back-burner building the relationships that make our businesses work, when it’s these very relationships that help us bring out our best and deliver collective greatness. Think about it, when you feel connected to someone – when you know them and care about them, you don’t want to let them down. You’ll go the extra mile. You’re more apt to be honest with them, more likely to be invested in them, and more committed to ensuring they win. When I work with people I know and care about, I enjoy the task no matter what it is. It doesn’t feel like “work” it feels like a shared experience. So what steps can you take to feel more connected to people at work?
1. Take initiative – I read a blog post recently by a young finance intern who wanted to get to know people at his new place of work and wanted to feel more connected, and his question was “How do I get invited out to lunch?” And what I wanted to tell him was, “Don’t wait to get invited. Invite. Take the initiative!” If we’re all waiting for someone else to go first, nobody is ever going to go! It doesn’t have to be a long lunch or a sit-down thing, make it an easy thing to say “yes” to and 9 times out of 10 you’ll get your “yes”. “Hey, I’m going to go grab some lunch (or coffee, or fresh air, etc.), wanna join me?”
2. Be curious – The truth is, people love to talk about themselves, but they want to know you’re really interested before they dive in. Learn to ask great questions and your relationships will soar. Steer away from close-ended questions that will only give you a “yes/no” or one-word answer and aim for rich, open-ended questions that will invite them to engage more fully. Be sincerely curious about what people love most about their work, about what they’re passionate about, about how they got into their field, and why they do what they do and it will unlock the foundation for a great conversation.
3. Be present – Nobody is going to really connect to you if you’re not able to be fully present with them. Even though you’ve got a million things going on, be willing to set your phone aside and bring your brain to the conversation, even if it’s for a brief amount of time. If you can’t do that, it’s not likely that anything meaningful will ever get said, and powerful connections aren’t made through small-talk.
4. Listen for Commonalities – As you get to know someone, one of the fastest way to cement a relationship is to learn what you have in common. Commonalities give us a jumping off point for richer conversations. What’s fascinating is that sometimes we have more in common that we think – we just need to be willing to stay curious long enough. I’ve had incredible conversations with people from all over the world, who have very different backgrounds and beliefs and experiences and have found common ground every time.
5. Get real – It’s important to take your mask down and let your authentic self shine through. Real connections cannot be made from behind a mask. The thing to remember is that, as human beings, something we all share is our hunger to be seen and appreciated for who we are – that’s how we’re wired. But we have to make it safe for one another to truly show up. Have the courage to go first – to take your mask down to give the other person permission to do the same so real connection is possible.
6. Share personal stories – Our personal stories are our currency to gain access to the hearts and minds of others – where connection lives. Stories require us to take our mask down, to be vulnerable, and put some skin in the game. The amount of emotional energy we get back from others is only equal to the amount of energy we’re willing to put out – our personal stories are our investment. Now, to be clear, there are stories that are appropriate to share in a work setting and stories that are not. Maintaining healthy personal boundaries is important. Generally speaking, if it’s a story that you’d be sharing with a therapist instead of a close colleague, it’s not the right story to share. But, that said, we play it far too safe at work, not sharing anything about ourselves that really allows others to know who we are and what we’re about. It’s important to let people know us if we want to have powerful connections – and our stories make that possible.
7. Connect like your life depended it on it – When someone is taking the time to have a real conversation with you, don’t take it for granted. While I know we’re all terribly busy and important, making an investment in our relationships at work will pay dividends for years to come, so it’s critical to be all-in. Pay attention to to what’s going on with the other person, during your conversation. What do they need from you to experience you as “authentic”? Are they experiencing you as “genuine, worthy of trust, reliance, and belief”? If not, why not? How can you adjust? Listen for what they’re not saying. Be fully present. Get real. Because the stakes are bigger than you might imagine.
We spend a huge chunk of our lives at work, and it’s no wonder that so many people feel disengaged when so little attention is focused on making our relationships more meaningful. But it doesn’t have to be that way, we can make a different choice.
©OnStage Leadership, 2014
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