Let’s Get Personal: How to Humanize Work Relationships

This shows the importance of human relationships at work

Okay, I’m calling it! For those who still hang onto the notion that being personal at work is unprofessional, think emotions don’t belong at work, or believe in the split personality of work self and home selfI’m reminded of the wise lyrical words of Queen Elsa in the movie Frozen: “Let it go, let it go!”  

When I look back on my career and think about my best work experiences where I felt most energized, productive and engaged, the common denominator has always been the people I worked with and the quality of our relationships. In fact, many of those people have become life-long friendsI’m sure that’s the case for many of you as well.   

Why are Positive Work Relationships Important?       

We are literally wired to connect with people. Neuroscience tells us that the brain releases oxytocin (the hormone linked to trustworthiness and motivation) in response to social contact.  Henry Cloud, the noted leadership expert, psychologist and author, says for our brains to function property and for people to thrive, we need connection.  He says relationships not only root and ground us, but they also fuel higher performance.   

And according to an article on PositivePsychology.com, there’s further evidence that positive social relationships increase employee satisfaction, engagement, productivity, motivation. It even boosts our physical health.   

Most important, positive relationships allow us to build trust with each other. It’s foundational to high-performing teams. If you can’t trust one another, you simply cannot deliver results.    

But Isn’t it About the Work?  

The counter-argument goes like this: “At work we should be focused on the work. And while the work is always important, relationships are built on connections that usually happen in non-work moments. And relationships are how the work gets done.   

As Marc Brackett, author of Permission to Feel, says, “The professional friendships born of personal moments make our work easier and more pleasant.” 

One upside of the crap year that was 2020 is we were reminded of the importance of relationships and connection.  In our locked-down and distributed world, where spontaneous connection is not happening, we have become hyper-aware we need more connection, more empathy and more real human moments.  

Now is the time to humanize those work relationships. Here’s four ways you can do that:    

1. Storytelling…So you were born, then what?  

Guy Raz, creator of the popular podcast How I Built This, says, “You don’t know someone until you know their story.”  

As part of their recruitment process, our friends at Smart, Savvy + Associates, a marketing and communications recruitment company where I used to work, invites all candidates to complete an exercise called “So you were born, then what?”. It asks them to list 6 –8 milestone moments in their life that shape who they are today. The instructions are deliberately vague so people can take it where they want. Some keep it strictly professional. Others go deep and personal, sharing triumphs, hardships, stories of resilience, heartache, and equal amounts of heart-warming and tough life lessons.  

Stories humanize us and allow us to see the whole person (tweet this) 

Want to get to know each other better? Sharing stories is an enlightening exercise for teams to do.  Make it voluntary and set a 2 – 3 minute time limit for people to share their story.  Download the “So you were born, then what?” template here.   

What would it do for you and your team to share your stories?  

2. Let’s Get Personal Breakout  

As part of Fluency’s Trust Building Workshop, we break teams into groups of 3-4 people and provide them with list of questions, some of which are more vulnerable than others. In their groups, everyone is invited to pick a question and share their answer with their group.  

It is a simple but profound exercise to build trust. In under 10 minutes, teams learn things about their colleagues they never knew. It creates connection by helping team members see each other on a deeper, more human level.   

How would getting personal connect your team?  

3. Creating Non-Work Moments at Work  

Many leaders in our network have been intentional about forging positive work relationships.  

Some build human moments into their daily huddles, like asking people for two words to express how they are feeling that day. Others invite people to share headlines on whatever is on their minds, such as accomplishments, family updates, or personal news.  Some schedule a weekly 30-minute team Zoom meet up with a no-work-talk rule, and still others connect one-to-one for coffee chats.  

One company we know hired a comedy troupe to deliver some online laughter. Whether it is happy hour, team trivia or inviting a special guest to a meeting, positive social interactions and laughter connect us.   

When was the last time you and your team really LOL’d together? 

4. Maintain Your Rituals  

This was the sage advice that Erica Keswin, an expert on working human and author of the book, Bring Your Human to Work, shared with our community in a webinar last year. 

According to Erica, rituals give us a sense of psychological safety, belonging, and a connection to purpose. If rituals are part of your culture, Erica suggests finding ways to keep them alive.   

She shared how Knotch, a digital media company, kept their ritual of a weekly showandtell, which can be anything from introducing a new employee, highlighting a new strategy, or having a team member recap a recent adventure.   

Rituals keep us connected.  

What positive rituals can you re-invent or create to help your team stay connected? 

What’s one thing you can put into motion this week to help you and your team get to know each other more personally?  

For more on this topic, watch for Erica’s next book: Rituals Roadmap: The Human Way to Transform Everyday Routines into Workplace Magic, which is now available.   

 

Looking to build trust and forge more team connection?  Talk to us about getting started.