If life came with a universal spoiler alert, it would be this: “You’re going to have to interact with other people.”
For some of you, this may be more a cause for consternation than celebration (we see you, introverts), but even if you prefer the company of your laptop to loud co-workers, you still crave some form of connection.
As leadership expert Michael Scott said in The Office, “People will never be replaced by machines. In the end, life and business are about human connections. And computers are about trying to murder you in a lake.”
Murderous computers aside, connection is hard-wired into our DNA. It’s part of what makes us human.
It’s also a key part of the Ally MindsetTM, a model for moving from a me-focus to a we-focus in your relationships that we share in our new book You, Me, We: Why We All Need a Friend at Work (and How to Show Up As One).
But connection can feel challenging to create, especially at work. It’s not always clear how to engage with those around us, and if we’re honest, sometimes we’re not sure we want to connect with them.
It’s tempting to skip the work of connecting or pretend it doesn’t matter when the work of relationship-building feels daunting.
Fortunately, it doesn’t require the Herculean effort you may think it does. The work of connection is the work of the everyday, existing in small moments and commonplace interactions.
The Value of Connection: Why You Benefit From Having Friends (and Being a Friend) at Work
The ability to form deep connections with colleagues, bosses, clients, etc. vastly improves your work and the experience you have at work. People who have close friends at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, leading to less absenteeism (41%), higher productivity (17%), and greater profitability (21%). Friendships are a smart business move. But connection also makes the rest of our lives better.
“Having best friends at work will make you 96 percent more likely to be extremely satisfied with your life, cut in half your chance of dying of heart disease, accelerate your body’s ability to heal, and reduce the possibility that you’ll ever suffer from ill effects of Alzheimer’s disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.” Us in You, Me, We.
Clearly connection matters.
What Does It Mean to Connect with Someone?
Connection is all about the relationships you build with others. Some relationships will be stronger than others (you can’t be best friends with everyone around you), but a connection can be made even during your brief chat with that stranger in the elevator.
According to Brené Brown, connection is “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”[i] So how do you build that energy in the everyday course of work?
The Secret to Building Connection in Your Ordinary Moments
Are you ready for the secret? Lean in close, friend. Here it is.
Every interaction is a chance to build connection.
For all that we love a grand gesture in movies, it’s not the dramatic slow-mo run to stop the plane that builds strong relationships (we don’t need any more flight delays anyway, thank you very much). Instead, it’s the day-to-day effort of choosing to care, to be present, and to reach out in any situation that builds connection.
Relationships are made or broken one conversation, one interaction at a time. You forge strong connections when you consistently choose to show up in your relationships with others.
So what does this look like practically?
4 Simple but Impactful Ways to Build Connection
There are certainly more ways to build connection than this list details (read You, Me, We for more), but you can immediately implement these four connection touchpoints without adding an extra task to your to-do list. They are as much ways of being as they are things to be doing.
1. Practice Compassion.
Compassion is so integral to connection we paired the two as an essential practice of the Ally MindsetTM.
Practicing compassion means we empathize with the people around us. We celebrate and mourn with them, and we choose to assume they are acting in good faith.
This kind of empathy can be practiced in almost every interaction. All you have to do is pay attention! Chances are everyone around you is going through something, whether good or bad. Show them you see them and care about what’s happening in their life, and they’ll feel seen, heard, and appreciated.
2. Ask “How Can I Help?”
Asking how you can help puts compassion into action, especially for those who feel uncomfortable asking for help. It’s a tangible means of showing support, but it also expresses respectful empathy. Asking what you can do to help rather than coming in with your own plan tells the other person you are more concerned with their needs and wants than your own ideas and opinions. It positions you as a partner and help they can trust instead of the white knight on a horse (aka. overbearing glory hog).
3. Communicate with Deep Presence
It’s one thing to be physically in the room when you’re talking to someone else, it’s quite another to be present with your whole self. Ruby coined the phrase deep presence to describe how we can better show up in our relationships. Deep presence is an intentional choice to pour energy into being there in that moment. Minimize distractions, listen without problem-solving, and just be there when you’re talking to someone else. Your whole attention is a gift they’ll appreciate.
4. Have Fun
While we don’t suggest putting anyone’s stapler in jello (unless you work at Dunder Mifflin), having fun at work is a vital part of building connection. Why? Because science!
When you laugh with someone, you bond chemically. Laughter produces oxytocin, the “bonding chemical” and, as we discuss in You, Me, We, a hormone directly tied to our levels of trust. You’re not just enjoying a good chuckle; you’re connecting in a deeply powerful way.
We know not all fun inspires laughter, but even without a belly laugh, having fun together strengthens your connection. Strong relationships are predicated on being there in bad times and in good. We see different sides of each other when we’re relaxed and smiling. So go on already, let the good times roll!
Connection and Compassion
Connection, and its good buddy compassion, are built best in everyday interactions. When others feel seen, heard, and appreciated in the small moments of each day, they will feel connected. But the real magic comes in the way those small moments build on each other.
Much like birds build their nests one twig, one piece of grass at a time, you have the opportunity to build deep connection one interaction at a time. Each time you show another person they’re valued – by listening intently, showing compassion, or laughing at a funny cat video they shared, you strengthen your connection with them and become the kind of friend we all want to have.
If you’d like to see how well you practice connection & compassion (and get some tips on how to improve), take our free Ally Mindset profile. And of course, get your hands on a copy of You, Me, We. Why we all need a friend at work (and how to show up as one!)</em>
About the authors: Morag Barrett, CEO of SkyeTeam, is a sought-out executive coach and member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches organization. Eric Spencer is COO of SkyeTeam and passionate about developing high performing leaders and teams. Ruby Vesely is a valued executive coach and facilitator. Together they are the heart of SkyeTeam and international leadership development firm and the coauthors of You, Me, We. Why we all need a friend at work (and how to show up as one!)