Are You Relishing and Maximizing Your Relationships?

3 Steps Toward Better Connection at Work and In Life

I’ve been on an “awed-venture” for the past month, fending off hedonic adaptation and looking at places, things and circumstances through a widened lens. And I’ve now realized this same technique can be applied to the people in my life. Consider my favorite sentence in the 6-hour conference called In Pursuit of Happiness: “I can sum up happiness in five words…‘Happiness is Connection, full stop’”.

As I strategized how to become tuned-in to awe, I realized a few things. Hedonic Adaptation delivers its normalizing effect after you move into a new home or get awarded a new job title (and a new salary linked to that title). But often it’s the elephant in the room when it comes to relationships. Ironically, this elephant is invisible until we make it visible. We can then choose to make small changes in our interactions to result in BIG improvements in our relationships.

Before I share my juicy tips, I invite you to check in with your emotional responses to those closest to you. For example, when your direct report tells you that he’s overwhelmed and can’t make a deadline, do you feel annoyed or empathetic? When a family member begins to rant about a difficult work situation, are you impatient or compassionate? We often take our family, our team, and our friends for granted. We become numbed and blinded to another person’s battle and instead focus on how their actions are inconvenient to our own agendas.

And here’s a confession: Even being aware of my blind spot (thinking everyone sees the world as I see it), I can become fully ensconced in the “Movie of My Mind” and forget that each of us is the movie star of their own movie, with no two movies being the same.

This is particularly true today. Some people are back at the office, while others are still working remotely. Many of us are navigating the emotional state of languishing, while others are thriving. Some of us are enjoying freedom to roam, while others are still in COVID lockdown. All these movies playing simultaneously leads to communication breakdowns, resulting in feelings of greater separation, uncertainty, self-doubt, frustration and exhaustion. This renders it nearly impossible to be in awe of those around you.

The good news? We can actively nurture our relationships by appreciating what’s working, and engaging in conversations about what can work better. So, if you are part of a team at work and/or in life, consider these three steps toward reconnecting with other human beings.

Create an Emotional Check-In Practice: Before plowing into a conversation with a business driven agenda, generate a true connection with the people involved— something more genuine and substantial than the all-to-familiar “How are you?” / “I’m busy” exchange. Your purpose is to gauge the emotional temperature in the room. If getting into emotions sounds touchy-feely or none-of-your-business, think again. Consider it an important step to reading a room and strategizing how to best communicate your message.

The success of your interaction is dependent upon the emotional state of your fellow conversationalist. After all, you can’t fully listen and comprehend when you’re stressed out. Here’s another interesting fact: By simply naming an emotion, you derive a double dividend. First, those around you become informed about your state. Second, naming a cortisol-producing emotion acts to weaken the effect of that emotion.

Are you at a loss for workplace check-in topics? Here’s a great website to help you. You can meander through the questions before a meeting and choose one that fits your style. Or, when you’re at home, instead of asking how someone’s day was, you can play “High, Low, Hero”, where each person describes their day using these three prompts.

Ask a Question to Benefit You Both: I’m excited to offer this tip from Sunitha Narayanan, who answered an inquiry put forth on LinkedIn. First, the backstory. My writing partner Ute Franzen-Waschke and I are exploring different dimensions of team dynamics through our Forbes Coaches Council blog posts. We inquired on LinkedIn, “What do you do to build trust on your team?” Sunitha suggested asking your teammates the question, “What does help look like to you?” Mic drop! So simple, so powerful. The answer to this question can inform how you can best support your colleagues.

Stay Out of the Conclusion Zone: Don’t get stuck in “knowing” what you can’t possibly know. We often climb up a ladder of conclusions based on emotional thoughts, leading to behaviors and actions we may later regret. Practice separating emotional hijacks from reality. In other words, stop jumping to conclusions based on the movies in your mind!

Here’s a true personal example to use as a practice field. On a Monday afternoon my boss had left me a voice message asking for a private meeting before the Friday morning all-hands meeting. For days I agonized over what I’d done wrong. Was he going to fire me? I was doing my best at this new job. My father suggested there was no use in worrying. Whatever scenario I conjured up was not going to be what Marty wanted to speak to me about. Well, Dad was correct. And I learned not to waste energy “worrying” about something I couldn’t possibly guess.

There’s never been a better time to appreciate those in your sphere of influence. And the best way to do this is to invite conversations that lead to better connection and understanding. Over the next three weeks, I’ll continue to share tales of awe. In the perfect world, you will benefit from deeper connections with and deeper gratitude toward the people, places and things with whom you’re connected— just like I did during that meeting with my boss Marty. He wanted to let me know that he was rewarding me with more accounts!


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