We spend our young lives knowing how important our friendships and our friendship groups can be.
As we grow into adulthood the awareness of comradery, of friendship and connection, diminishes. More often that not we whittle down our time and energy to a life partner and functional, low trust, engagements at work. And yet spending time connecting in more fun and meaningful ways outside of our romantic relationships can help with everything, with every corner of our lives.
Mental and emotional health and even productivity are said to be affected by how engaged we feel at work.
How engaged we feel at work, is less to do with the work itself, which may be inspiring or mundane – most of us have a little of both. It has much more to do with our relationshops at work, the quality of them, the invisible thread that touches everything and has the potential to elevate the work experience to something greater than the individual parts of each one of us, of each employee.
Belonging is a beautiful thing to co-create. It’s not a trivial endeavor.
And like any relationship, it takes work, a series of daily choices, a decision to act in alignment with the values of integrity, trustworthiness and, to an extent of vulnerability and courage – even, yes, in the workplace. And no I don’t mean crying to get sympathy, or relentlessly sharing your every woe or happiness.
Here’s the thing – every time we share a little more of something precious and meaningful with our colleagues, we risk facing a social rejection.
And yet in order to form connection we must be willing to share more of ourselves – what makes us happy, what lights us up, as well as what might sometimes bring us down, or get in the way of our success.
Of course we must also be willing to let each other in – to create emotional safety by listening, non judgementally (which is also a practice, it doesn’t come naturally to most humans all of the time). We must be willing to absorb those stories that our collegues share about who they are and what matters most to them.
We really must listen. Listening can only aid connection and understanding.
For many of us who are natural connectors, we do this easily. For others, we have forgotten that people yearn to feel heard and need evidence that we have heard them. I remind people how simple this can be. We must reflect back in conversation that we have heard exactly what they have said, by repeating key words or phrases that they have shared.
We must be willing to bypass our own habits of judgement also on every occasion that we come across another human whose interests are vastly different from our own.
The world would be so much smaller if we only ever connected with people who share the same cultural references and interests as us. So we must guard against these habits that automatically and quickly push people away simply because we have not asked the right questions, to help us discover some common ground.
This too is a skill. It’s easy to sit in judgement when we don’t understand a ”thing”:- Someone’s running hobby may be a complete mystery or bore to us. Another’s acting classes may cause us to assume they’re just a ”show off” and ”too much”. Another person’s love of flashy cars or clothes may trigger us to assume they’re selfish or superficial.
We are inherently lazy and quick to judge. I imagine it’s how we’d have kept ourselves safe in our primitive days – the desire to be the same as one another would have provided a sense of safety, group belonging, tribe.
We are no longer in group survival mode now. And yet, in spite of this, it takes a conscious effort to notice and be willing to recognise when we are shutting one another down and allowing our own lack of curiosity, fears and judgements to get in the way of ever really truly knowing and appreciating the people that we work for or with and are around each day.
As I have mentioned before – small talk, or even short bouts of deep talk, make us feel better and produce oxytoxin, a chemical whicfh does a lot of things, but one of them is to make us feel good and more positive and is a part of how we come to bond with one another.
According to research feeling more positively orientated is said to make us 33 per cent smarter. Which conversely means to be persistently negative implies we make less smart decisions.
(0.13 iin this video where Chris Foss, FBI Hostage Negotiater explains a little more.)
Of course realistically work is also, ‘’just’’ work to some extent. We cannot love or want to be around each other all of the time and should be realistic that conflict is inevitable.
What we need then is to have our interpersonal skills primed and ready for good use – so that we are conflict-ready, robust enough and able to work with all of our differences.
After all, time spent with collegeues for hours on end is a bit like belonging to an unofficial family isn’t it? The only way I know to do that is to make us relationship ready and able to relate and navigate through sometimes difficult terrain.
The HOW to make us more robust and resilent as a team, as humans, is to practice deeper levels of curiosity and listening. We judge those things we do not understand and have not taken time to better know. And this in turn leads to stalemate, disconnection, loneliness and toxiticity.
If you’re curious about my work and sense your colleagues need more help to feel more connected, to create safety, trust and belonging, you can reach me via firstname.lastname@example.org
For transparency, my marketing of my business has been hellishly unsuccessful. That’s just the truth. It does not for example come naturally to me to post on Linkedin every day, though I have tried and found it difficult and unproductive. I am, amongst other things someone who has waining energy levels so my self care comes first before most else.
And so it is that with a heavy heart I have had to conclude that I shall need to pause soon on this business and go back into a normal, office environment again, smiling sweetly, meeting and greeting once again. Reality is such that I have to keep the wolves at bay – in other words, to pay my bills and so it is.
With this in mind, your time to talk to me would really be soon, or NOW.
Is there an event, workshop, experience that I can design for you, to support your teams in valuing and coming together more effectively?
Or if you want to bend my ear about what your challenges might be and whether or not I can help solve them with you do feel free to reach out.
Wishing you well as always!