How to Make "High-Quality Connections"
Creating an Energetic Workplace
Our daily dealings with people can have a real impact on our mood, our energy levels, and our motivation.
A positive, upbeat exchange with a friendly colleague can get your working day off to a great start, but a listless greeting from another team member might bring down your energy level and dampen your enthusiasm.
Our sense of connection to the people around us influences our personal outlook and can also impact the atmosphere of our workplace as a whole. So how can we create a happier, more productive environment?
Jane Dutton, professor of business administration at the University of Michigan and author of the 2003 book, Energize Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections at Work, says the key to building a healthy and energizing workplace is to create "high-quality connections."
In this article, we explain what high-quality connections are and why they are beneficial, and look at the consequences of poor-quality connections. We also suggest ways you can create high-quality connections at work – and in your personal life.
What Is a High-Quality Connection?
When you meet people at a conference, at work or even on social media, you're making contacts. But you may not be making a connection.
High-quality connections are interactions that make you feel engaged, open, motivated, and revitalized. They are not necessarily dependent on close or intimate relationships – a quick message or a simple exchange in a meeting can be high quality if it makes both participants feel valued. Whenever your connections are high quality, you can transform a conversation into one that benefits everyone.
Benefits of High-Quality Connections
Positive connections can create enormous benefits to individuals and organizations. Friendships are examples of high-quality connections – and we all know how much happiness and energy a good friendship can bring. Many of the approaches we explore in this article can be used outside the workplace – you may find they help energize and improve your relationships with friends and other social contacts.
According to Dutton, high-quality connections offer three main advantages:
- Health. Studies show that high-quality connections improve your psychological and physical health. They create positive emotions and vitality, which helps reduce stress.
- Engagement. We are social creatures, and enjoy friendship and positive dialogue. When we make high-quality connections, we feel happier and more productive. Open, trusting relationships can give us the confidence to express our feelings, including fears and worries, because we know we will receive the right support.
- Learning. You learn more easily when you feel positive about yourself and the people around you. This is because feelings of happiness, excitement and enthusiasm can get you interested in new ideas and learning new things. You are also more playful and creative when you're feeling good. When you are in trusting and engaging relationships, you can also feel safe enough to share more information, take risks and admit your mistakes. This allows you to learn from your experiences.
Consequences of Poor-Quality Connections
Unfortunately, stressful interpersonal working conditions are common. If your relationships at work lack trust, or you feel that your contribution is not valued, it can have a negative effect on you and your productivity. Poor-quality connections drain your energy, making it difficult to concentrate and to engage with others.
You can become distracted as you try to understand and deal with other people's motives and behaviors. Over time, these worries can erode the quality of your work and spread negativity around the workplace.
Poor connections can make you feel unappreciated, undervalued and anxious. Many people take these negative feelings home with them, where they affect their friends and family, too.
How to Create High-Quality Connections
According to Dutton, you can create high-quality connections in three ways: respectful engagement, task enabling, and trust. Here are some of the ways you can do this:
1. Respectful Engagement
When you treat people with respect, you create a cycle of good feelings and positive energy that increase the happiness and productivity of everyone involved. Here are some of the ways you can practice respectful engagement:
Be Present. Sometimes we are too busy with To-Do Lists, projects, meetings, and things we're worrying about to give people our full attention. When you are present, you are telling people that you are open and available to them. You are also letting them know that their thoughts, ideas and opinions matter.
How do you do this? Your body language can send a clear message that you are paying attention to someone. Make eye contact and relax your body a little. You can also close your book, put down your pen, turn away from your laptop, and direct your attention to the person who's speaking.
- Listening. As part of this, when someone is talking to you, are you really listening? Or are you only half-listening, while you jump to conclusions, interrupt or think about what you want to say? Effective listening lets people know they have been heard, which conveys your respect. You can do this by acknowledging their feelings and then confirming your understanding. For example, "So it sounds like you feel angry and hurt. Is that right? And that's because you think you were treated unfairly? Can you tell me why?"
- Punctuality. Being on time for meetings is not just good manners, it also shows that you respect other people's time, and that you understand the commitments they have to meet.
- Authenticity. Be yourself. When you are authentic, you are telling people that you are honest, trustworthy and not "playing games." It also means that your behavior is based on your own true feelings, rather than on any external pressures or expectations.
- Affirmation. It's important to communicate your awareness and understanding of someone's situation. For example, you can tell people that you know they are under a lot of pressure, and praise them for how well they are handling it. Encouragement makes them feel noticed and appreciated. You can also provide affirmation by expressing how much you value team members and their skills, abilities and talents.
- Communicating. The way you express yourself also demonstrates your willingness and ability to engage respectfully with people. For example, try making requests rather than demands. A request suggests that you are working together and that everyone's input is valued. A demand suggests that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, which creates tension and breaks down trust. You can also avoid miscommunication by using positive language, clearly defining terms, and setting specific objectives.
To find out how good your communication skills are, take our self-test.
2. Task Enabling
This involves encouraging your people, and helping them perform effectively. Here are some approaches you can use:
- Coaching. When you coach people, you are developing their skills and abilities. You are helping them discover answers for themselves. Your team members will be much more engaged with solutions that they have come up with by themselves. Helping them to achieve their goals and ambitions will create high-quality connections.
- Facilitating. You can help your team members understand and navigate the structure of an organization by providing them with access to the people they need. For example, open up avenues for them to meet key people at special events or by creating speaking opportunities.
- Be Accommodating. Do you keep a strict schedule and expect everyone else to fit round it? With a bit of flexibility, you can accommodate your team members' needs, which creates a sense of mutual support and builds high-quality connections. This may involve extending deadlines or offering flexible working hours to allow them to complete their work more effectively. Colleagues can also accommodate one another's changing workloads to help everyone succeed.
- Nurturing. Dutton uses the word "nurturing" to describe supporting people's emotional needs. Through role modeling and encouragement, managers can address issues such as competence and self-esteem. By offering support and compassion, you can provide your team members with a solid foundation for developing, both personally and professionally.
Trust is important in any relationship, but it is essential when developing high-quality connections. Our article, Theory X and Theory Y, explores how trusting your team members and adopting a more participative approach to management can boost motivation and engagement. The key ingredient of trust, says Dutton, is believing in someone's integrity and dependability. Here are some ways you can build trust:
- Sharing. When you share something important or valuable, you are telling the recipient that you trust him or her, and that he can trust you to give him what he needs to do his job well.
- Self-disclosure. Revealing details about yourself, especially if that information is personal or may expose a vulnerability, can help to build a strong connection. For example, letting your team members know that you are always nervous before a presentation shows that you can open up to them a little. They will appreciate that you can trust them with personal information.
- Language Use. The words you use can tell people whether you believe you are all working together as a team. If you want to create an inclusive environment, try using "we" instead of "I" or "you." This shows that you trust others to join you in a collaborative effort, and that you believe they are reliable. If you want your team members to trust you when you use inclusive language, however, your actions must match your words.
- Delegating. As a manager, you can convey trust when you delegate tasks and hand over responsibility for projects to your team. It shows that you believe in members' ability to do the job right. If you delegate a task to someone, give her the room to do the job – you can undermine trust if you continually check up on her.
- Feedback. It's usually managers who give feedback to their team members – so if you ask your people for their opinions on your ideas, you are demonstrating that you value their points of view. People respect and trust this kind of openness, especially when you accept and act on the feedback you receive.
High-quality connections can energize you and the people you work with by improving your health and wellbeing, increasing your engagement with others, and stimulating your desire to learn.
When you interact with people using respectful engagement, task-enabling and trust, you can create a supportive workplace environment that gives everyone the opportunity to live up to their potential, and so be more productive and happy.
Apply This to Your Life
Look at yourself. Are you running out of energy at work? Do you feel that your colleagues or team members don't appreciate you, or that your supervisor isn't interested in you? Perhaps you're bringing only part of yourself to work, and a lack of engagement can be making you feel worn out and depressed.
Look at your team. Is there a lack of energy and drive, are there rivalries and disputes, or do members treat customers, suppliers or one another disrespectfully?
Improve the quality of your connections by being present and authentic, and by listening actively to others. Be accommodating and nurturing in your task assignments. Build trust through self-disclosure, delegation and asking for feedback. And encourage your team members to do the same.
Many of these approaches could also benefit your personal life. You can use some of the steps you take to build high-quality connections at work to energize and strengthen your relationships with friends and family.