The art of human connection (in business)

By Robert Half on 23 July 2021

The way we are connecting with each other is changing. While we’re all hyper-connected these days because of digital technology, there are some serious questions to answer around whether we are really connecting with individuals in the way we should be. Real human connection in business plays an important part in the success of organisations and their employees because it’s how we build happy and productive workforces and how individuals are driven and supported to develop in their careers.

But are we losing the art of human connection in business? Introducing a virtual event hosted by Robert Half in June 2021 which explored the art of human connection, Stephan Langhammer, Director at Robert Half, explained that staff turnover is increasing across businesses in Australia which could be an indication that leaders are no longer connecting well with their employees.

Stephen told the audience that COVID-19 has accentuated the problem of disconnection in business. While we’re now more likely to rely on virtual interactions at work, Stephen asked whether we’ve really evolved with these new ways of connecting. He suggested there is a crucial difference between resilience and antifragile, and because our approach to how we connect is likely to be changed forever, we must be antifragile to take teams forward. According to Stephen, being antifragile, unlike resilience, means ditching the mindset that we’ll eventually return to old ways, and instead, embrace these ways of connecting as an essential new art.

Leading the event, Sue McKenzie, Director at Orange Creative Coaching, emphasised the critical role leaders pay in facilitating human connection in business. Sue said that as a leader, you are hired not just for your technical skills but “because you bring something to the team that’s above and beyond [your vocational education or technical skills]”.

“How do we create an environment that inspires people and helps them be the best that they can be? – this is the difference between leadership and management,” Sue said.

What connection means

Sue introduced the idea that because we interact so much in the digital sphere, leaders must work hard to instil the value of connection between people, but they should also educate around how to do it. Importantly, Sue commented that “authentic connection is not about saying or doing the ‘right thing’, it’s about our willingness to ‘show up’”. How people put real effort into relationships is all part of the learning, according to Sue.

Stephen added that “it’s OK to send a meme, but what about telling a story?” Conversations are the best way to improve real connections between people, he told the audience.

The value of conversations

No doubt heightened by the prevalence of social media in people’s lives, Sue explained that one of the biggest obstacles to making real connections today is self-judgment, and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Sue said, “people are asking themselves, ‘Am I good enough?’, ‘Am I able to do this?’”

People don’t volunteer or offer an opinion because they fear that they won’t come across in the right way, but then that leads to judgment of others. We can’t have connections, relationships, and resilient cultures when we are fearful about how others perceive us, Sue explained.

“At work, there is a need to separate connection meetings from task meetings. We need to give time to the connection conversations”, said Sue.

Speaking about human connection in business, Sue continued, “Completely online companies where teams have never physically worked together are often very good at this because they have to make more effort around connection and structure their ‘connection’ moments. For example, they organise a meeting every Monday where people talk about what’s going on in their lives.”

We need to listen more

According to Sue, another issue we face is that we’re not listening to one another. Whatever our opinions or beliefs are, we need to have the flexibility to acknowledge and listen to the point of view of others – this is an important skill to teach to those around you, she explained.

“Authentic connection is about being able to listen to one another, having relatable experiences, and acknowledging one another – even if we don’t agree,” Sue said.

Practical steps to improve human connection in business

Sharing her advice on how to facilitate human connection in business, Sue suggested to the audience that they encourage people to be compassionate and understanding at times when others are experiencing emotion or having a tough time. It’s important that everyone understands and respects that we all have our own perceptions of situations which carry validity, even if it is different to yours. This outlook helps people to improve their connections with others, explained Sue.

Seeing problems and challenges as an opportunity to improve things for the future is also an effective way to build stronger human connections at work, according to Sue. She explained that this way of thinking removes the stress and the pressures from a situation and gives others confidence to contribute. Above all, Sue said it’s important to think about how you react to situations and ‘show up’ in front of people to resolve issues together.

Sue moved on to the impact of our fears and ‘uncomfortabilities’ on the quality of connections, making the point that if we become afraid of things we don’t know well – like the technology we’re using – it can create distance between ourselves and others.

“In life, you are either creating connections or creating separation. So, any time that you as a leader feel fearful or uncertain about something, be conscious that you don’t let your fear communicate subconsciously to others, because this creates separation,” Sue said. Perhaps of greatest relevance in an environment where leaders and their teams have had to quickly adjust to new remote working technologies, Sue stated the best way forward is to “identify and acknowledge the opportunity to work together to solve problems”.

As a leader, your ability to create an environment where people are willing to connect and work together is the only marker of success, according to Sue. With this in mind, Sue explained that an important part of human connection in business is knowing you have something to contribute and that you’re part of something. “After COVID, we need to look for other sustainable ways to ensure people continue to feel as though they are part of something”, Sue commented.

Developing this thought, Sue explained that we need to be conscious about how we use technology because it can create inauthenticity and disconnection. No doubt inspiring the audience to think about their workplace culture, Sue said it’s important to remember that connection is about openness, having shared relatable experiences and feeling that you are part of something bigger.

“Our use of technology sometimes revolves around presenting ourselves in a way that is not true to reality, but we don’t earn true connection by being ‘good enough’ – instead, we have to put the effort in. Saying ‘hello’ to people in the lift or reaching out to friends or team members is the effort. Too often, making the first move and showing willingness to create a connection with someone is not seen as important,” Sue concluded.

Wrapping up the event, Stephen reminded everyone that it’s important to check in with individuals when working remotely to see how they’re getting on and how they want to be connected with. Above all, the event addressed several key components of human connection in business including being opportunity focussed, using technology responsibly to create connection and not distance, being a flexible thinker, and creating an authentic connection by understanding how you can show ‘willingness’.

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