Work is More Than Your Next Deadline: How to Create High Quality Connections in the Workplace

Fun fact:

I knew Sam before she came to work at Swift Kick. She and I are cast members of an on-demand online workout show called Daily Burn 365. We would wake up early to have a trainer beat us up. On camera. In full makeup. Along with another friend Jen, these early mornings led to weekend hangouts, trips to the theater, meme sharing on Instagram and tons of “what should I do” texts.

We realized a few months into our friendship that we knew each other’s pain and secrets, but not each other’s favorite color. There is power in getting to know someone on a deeper level. It takes practice, active listening, humor and patience. Exercise brought us together. Sharing things deeper than surface level is what started to create the connections that we would come to call sisterhood, not just friendship.

“High-quality connections (HQCs) are short-term, dyadic interactions that are positive in terms of the subjective experience of the connected individuals and the structural features of the connection.”
-John Paul Stephens, Emily Heaphy, and Jane E. Dutton

As a team leader, have you created opportunities for your team to get to know each other beyond surface level favorite colors and go-to lunch orders? You know that we know that you don’t like icebreakers. Yet, time and time again, we find leaders instructing their team to designate time to get together for “forced fun” or because it’s “FUNdatory.” Unknowingly, they make getting to know co-workers something extra to do during (or, worse yet, after) work hours.

Don’t make connections a mandatory experience. Consider, instead, creating opportunities for people to get to know one another on a deeper level, before asking them to go roller skating together. The common, deeper bonds created over time will make events like that even more fun, and not an obligation.

When we work with people we have deeper connections with, we tend to be more creative and more resilient. Depending on your line of work, it’s easy for these moments to go unnoticed as you meet deadlines or work on special projects. Research has told us that high-quality connections are based on emotional contagions. We work in close proximity to the same people day after day. We emit and receive emotional signals whether we know it or not, which can lead to greater rapport.

In their research, John Paul Stephens, Emily Heaphy, and Jane E. Dutton found three mechanisms that bring colleagues together and put those emotional contagions to work:

1. Respectful Engagement

In other words, meaningful interactions. Jen, Sam, and I were taking care of our bodies together. We offered support when it got hard, laughed when we completed a workout, and shared excitement for the next time we would see each other. But at the core, we respected each other.

2. Task Enabling

Life got hard, and we were there to support each other through big life changes: finishing a graduate program, new job, moving to a new apartment. Emotional support in these big changes enhanced the positive regard we felt towards each other.

3. Play

We saw a lot of Broadway shows together. It helped us get to know each other outside of the setting in which we met. It allowed new conversations as we examined what we observed and how we felt about it.

As you read more about the research, you may realize you are already using these mechanisms to get to know your teammates better. Or, you may realize these are things you want to get better at. No matter what, be mindful of boundaries in and out of the office as to not blur expectations and roles.

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