Six Ways to Grow Social Connections on the Job

Six Ways to Grow Social Connections on the Job

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A new book suggests simple habits we can adopt to strengthen our relationships at work.

Many of us could use a little more connection at work. Maybe you’ve started to feel a sense of isolation on the job, or tension with a coworker; perhaps you got some negative feedback about your work style and you want to smooth things over.

Positive emotions and warm relationships play an important role in workplace culture. Not only do they make us feel happier and healthier, they can also be a boon to productivity. As David DeSteno has shown, for example, practicing gratitude and compassion toward others can make a big difference in our motivation and satisfaction on the job.

Now, a new book by psychologist Melanie Katzman, Connect First: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning, and Joy at Work, offers numerous ideas for infusing more positive energy into our workplaces. While these concrete, practical tips come from Katzman’s years of experience working as a business consultant, many also reflect recent findings from psychology research.

Here are just a small sample of Katzman’s ideas for creating strong relationships and a happier, more productive workplace.

1. Smile

This may be something you don’t want to hear—especially if you’re a woman who has been patronizingly asked, “Why don’t you smile more?” But it’s true that smiling has social significance, helping to grease the wheels of connection. People who smile are considered more likable and competent—especially if the smiles are genuine rather than fake—and smiles can help increase trust.

“Smiling is free and efficient. It asserts your intention to form a mutual, shared, equal connection,” writes Katzman.

She suggests making a point to greet people warmly in your office and keep your cell phone in your pocket, to avoid missing opportunities to smile and connect. If it’s hard for you to imagine putting on a genuine smile on command, you can always try to think of something that delights you, which may produce a spontaneous grin that will make an impression on those around you.

2. Respond promptly

When colleagues send you a request or respond to one of yours, Katzman suggests that (no matter how busy you are) you acknowledge their missives with a simple “got it!” or “received”—preferably with an estimate of when you’ll be able to get back to them, if a response is required. Why? Because not responding leaves coworkers feeling as if you don’t care about them or their work, and it can waste their time as they try to figure out what to do with your silence.

“Don’t be that colleague, someone who is so focused on your own to-do list that you forget that there are people out there wondering if and when they can get the information they need,” writes Katzman. “Do your part to stamp out undue worry and avoid the diminishment people experience when they feel ignored.”

Showing consideration toward coworkers by acknowledging their communications promptly is a form of civility, which is important to workplace culture. And, as management researchers have documented, experiencing incivility can lead workers to be less productive and loyal to the company.

3. Listen

Listening well is an interpersonal skill that can be of great value when trying to get closer to others. Too often, writes Katzman, we spend the time other people are talking scanning our own experiences to see if we can relate to what they’re saying; or we rehearse what point we want to make when the other person is done. But, as she argues and Nicholas Epley’s work suggests, we’d connect better and show more empathy if we focused on asking people questions and listening carefully to their answers.

Listening well is a key to effective leadership. When leaders don’t listen well, their staff have worse emotional well-being, which in turn creates poorer working conditions. As other authors have suggested, letting silences breathe and not rushing to fill them can serve to deepen dialogue and create trust.

4. Tell stories

“Stories stimulate oxytocin, the neurochemical that motivates cooperation. Telling stories evokes emotions, enhances empathy, and increases connection,” writes Katzman.

Too often, though, workplace staff meetings are filled with endless facts and figures about the company’s progress or opinions about future goals without the benefit of an overarching story to help people understand how they relate to the company’s larger mission. Or products and ideas are presented to potential customers without the use of personal anecdotes, which would otherwise help break the ice and potentially make customers more interested.

When people hear personal stories, they tend to more readily open up themselves and care more about what you are trying to accomplish. Stories that speak of overcoming struggle can be particularly emotive, and make us feel bonded together as human beings. The best stories demonstrate that even successful people make mistakes and have a hard time, but can overcome the odds. Storytelling around the company’s mission can prove invaluable to build connection, since people want to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

5. Admit to mistakes

As Brené Brown has articulated many times over, being vulnerable—for example, being able to let people know when you’ve made a mistake—can change the dynamic of social situations. It makes people feel safer with you, among other things, knowing that you won’t judge them for being imperfect.

Workplaces, too, need to provide a kind of “psychological safety” to employees—meaning, allowing people to show up as they are and to admit to mistakes without fear of punishment. Workplaces that encourage mistake-sharing may be more cohesive, innovative, and productive than those that don’t. Organizational leaders who act with humility themselves help set a positive tone, creating a work environment where coworkers feel empowered, engaged, and satisfied with their jobs.

For some, this may seem counterintuitive. Won’t admitting to mistakes just make people lose confidence in us? Quite the opposite, says Katzman. “An overattachment to being infallible is a sign of insecurity,” she writes. “If you want to flex your strength and affirm your position in a group, admit that there are limits to your knowledge and be inquisitive about opposing opinions.”

6. Create shared rituals

Think of cheering at a sporting event, singing at the top of your lungs at a pop concert, or dancing at a flashmob. There’s something about synchronizing with other people that breaks down barriers and helps everyone feel part of the same team.

The same is true in business, says Katzman: Building opportunities for shared ritual in the workplace—in small and large ways—can be good for morale and organizational health. For example, she suggests things like playing celebratory music for two minutes whenever your company completes a new deal, or recognizing employee anniversaries to show people their loyalty is valued. Small, everyday rituals—like sending a note of gratitude to a colleague at the end of every week—build closeness, too, which helps trigger a shared sense of mission.

There are many, many other worthy tips in Katzman’s book, making it easy to find some that will resonate with you. No matter where your desire for more connection at work stems from, try picking up this book for some pointers. I’m sure your colleagues will appreciate the effort you put into infusing more positivity into your workplace.