Why you need a “culture of connection” at work.
No matter what “level” you operate on within the corporate structure, each individual, whether consciously or subconsciously,
operates with at least one of their core values driving their performance in the workplace. But how often, do you actually articulate those core “anythings” to other people as a way to connect to them? The answer is: “not very often”. We don’t normally go around sharing what drives us on the deepest human level. So what is it then that is supposed to connect us?
Traditionally, members of an organization are supposed to connect with a common organizational purpose. Aspects of this most often highlighted in a mission statement or a leadership vision, nailed to the wall of every conference room and hallway, like shiny signs announcing you’ve entered Valhalla. It is the ordained framework meant to drive productivity, morale and work ethic in the workplace. So, do those lofty words and well crafted communications actually connect us to the organization and more importantly, to each other as members of that organization? Yes and no. Yes, it’s meant to do all that, but no, it rarely accomplishes that feat.
Communication and connection don’t always go hand in hand. You can be the greatest communicator and actually suck at connecting. So how do we communicate in a way that actually connects us to each other?
Instead of “communicating” all the time, what if we all agreed to add to our core value lists, the idea of face-to-face human connection? Now, get your mind out of the gutter people, I’m not talking about the romantic kind, this is after all the workplace we’re talking about here. I’m talking about the basic elements of human connection, the ones currently being programed out of us by the “connection” we feel when using technology. It is the “dying art” of face-to-face connection, eye-contact, active listening, and awareness, that we will all miss most when the robots take over; but I digress…
When you connect, you feel. When you connect, you are vulnerable. When you are vulnerable, you fear. When you fear, you are most alive. When you are most alive, you are most powerful. When you connect, you are most human.
So, no matter where you sit on the corporate ladder, here are three ways you can do your part to develop a “culture of connection” in your workplace:
We’ve heard this very often in our work with corporate clients: “let it lie”. The Beetles said something similar: “Let it be”. While I admire, the Beetles, when it comes to transforming corporate culture, you must make choices that may run counter to the norm. I dare say disrupt and innovate the way you interact with members of your workforce. So, next time you need to communicate with a co-worker, choose to set your intention to “connection”. How? Well, take a breath. A moment if you will, to formulate a very clear, simple thought or question; Then speak and/or ask. Engage with a very specific intention. What is essential however, is that anything and everything that comes out of your mouth must be rooted in a deep sense of respect for the person you are speaking to. No matter what your history is with the individual you are communicating with, connection only comes when you operate from the simplest and most basic human level. Make eye contact, ask them if they are open to a conversation. State very clearly what your expectation is out of the conversation. Then ask them what there expectations are. Operate as equals…because no matter where we are at in the corporate food chain, we are all equal from a human perspective. It is choosing the “HOW” we engage and a sense of mutual respect, that are the keys to connection. Even the greatest fighters, treat their opponent with respect; For it is the moment they don’t respect, when they themselves become vulnerable to attack”. It’s not about being the best fencer, it’s about the one who has the best placement of the sword at the exact moment that constitutes a win. Connection is a process, choose to engage in it.
Now that you’ve chosen to engage, now, it’s time to listen. Clear your mind for a moment. Try not to exist 3 steps ahead, relax your shoulders, make eye contact; Nod. Acknowledge. Sound out an “uh-huh”. Whatever you do while you are listening, the goal is to make the other person feel that they are being heard; acknowledged; that their perspective matters. Again, let them know this. Articulate how much you appreciate their effort in communicating their thought process. After all, the greatest leaders are the best students. Always open to learning something new in every moment, and from every person. It is only after you have truly listened, that you can weigh what was said, against your own thought process. Find the balance between what was said and what you want to say, then speak, answer, and guide from a level of mutual respect. Listening is an art, just like acting. Any actor, can fake listening, but only the best actors can truly listen, process thoughts in the moment based on what was just said, then, formulate thoughts that intentionally land on the person they are speaking to; all while using the lines in the script! True listening is what happens when you are done trying to be “authentic”.
Now that you’ve chosen to engage in the process of connection, chosen to truly listen with mutual respect, it’s time to understand. It may come as a surprise that communication is not about you. It’s about the other person. In order to connect, the other person needs to feel safe. Simple as that. We are animals. Animals are tuned for survival. Therefore if you want to be heard, you must first ensure the person you are speaking to is heard first. No matter what. How? Notice something about them. “You seem upset. Please tell me what’s bothering you.” or “From your last email, I know you are disappointed with the latest decision to not move forward with the commissions structuring; Is there anything else you would like to communicate before I offer my perspective on the matter?”. Fully understanding an employee’s perspective, doesn’t mean you agree with it. It does, however, lower the defenses, establishes base level of trust and may even result in some common ground. You may even go so far as to ask your employee what their suggestions might be for solving the challenge at hand. Once this is all out of the way, you can then, and only then, go ahead and clearly articulate the purpose and reasoning behind the decision made. And yes, most things do need an explanation. Regardless of corporate culture, human beings need closure. Closure, whether good or bad allows an employee to move on with the decision making process. What are they going to do about their frustration? Find a new job? Take their frustration up the ladder to executive leadership? Choosing to understand, will ease their frustration by simply allowing them to feel safe. The days of making corporate employees feel “dispensable” should be over. Try, as a default, to build people up, not tear them down. If you give people opportunities to lead, whatever that may mean in your organization, you will find that those people will blossom. Challenge yourself to lead with understanding in every interaction you have, no matter where you are on the corporate ladder. The benefits to workforce morale, productivity and retention will be exponential.
So, it is connection that should drive culture. It is culture that should drive the workforce. And it is the workforce that should drive your company. As a leader, you then steer the ship into the port of success. When you choose to engage, choose to listen, and choose to understand, you are not weak. You are vulnerable. But as Brene Brown said it best: “with great vulnerability, comes great power”. You are powerful beyond measure, because you’ve chosen to operate beyond the norm of corporate culture. You have chosen to foster a culture of connection. And it is from that cultural landscape, that you will lead a workforce to feel valued, heard and driven to accomplish your vision.
What’s your #1 strategy for building employee motivation?
“In order to speak from your heart, you must first mine your brain for the essentialized version of your beliefs. It is the fuel for purpose and connection.” -CEO, ADVOgroup