Last June, I attended and participated in the European Positive Psychology Conference in Iceland. The previous two years have been deficient for all of us to have the opportunity to meet hundreds of people - face-to-face to converse and share ideas.
It was rejuvenating and made me realise how essential a high-quality connection is to stimulate our energy, brains and bodies. Obviously, for most of us, attending significant events is not something we do consistently, so how can we cultivate high-quality connections daily, and why is it important? Let's explore this further.
Unfortunately, the current numbers are startling regarding mental well-being at work. Social connection and a sense of belonging are fundamental needs for human well-being and thriving. And lack of this during the pandemic is undoubtedly one reason for the climbing rates of burnout and other mental health challenges.
Companies have progressed significantly in the last years to create conditions to support well-being, such as offering healthy food and programs to promote exercise and healthy habits. Yet something is amiss.
In a recent McKinsey survey, around a third of the employee population reported symptoms of burnout and experienced moderate distress. Despite an organisational commitment to mental health and well-being as a priority.
In my view, there are significant opportunities to cultivate high-quality connections within the world of work. It's not a quick fix. It is about the long game, including commitment, consistency, courage, and investing time, and frequently requires a culture shift within a team or an organisation. The does and don'ts. Nothing will change if we don't address mindsets and behaviours that limit cultivating the best in each other.
What is a high-quality connection?
Jane Dutton is a Professor and researcher who focuses on understanding the enabling conditions of thriving within organisations. She defines high-quality connections as interactions where you get a sense of mutual awareness, positive regard and being on equal ground as the other person. There is a sense of vitality and a feeling of being energised. Like a flower exposed to the sunshine, we lift up and blossoms when we experience such meaningful interaction with another.
Three things can happen when you engage with people: your energy gets depleted, stays neutral, or gets heightened. A high-quality connection is precisely this sense of elevated vitality and energy.
It's life-giving rather than life-depleting.
Why it's so important?
First, it is an antidote to the high rates we see in terms of burnout and various distress symptoms. High-quality connections support you in building your psychological and emotional resources. So during distress, you are better equipped to navigate without a heavy toll on your well-being. When your psychological and emotional resources are high, you are more resilient. When we experience high-quality connections, it impacts our mindset and sense of optimism and well-being. It also improves engagement, creativity and learning.
Even a single encounter of mutual regard with another human being that makes you feel seen and heard brings vitality and can act as a remedy against distress.
A sense of connection is something that you can experience in a micro-moment. Expressing genuine gratitude towards another, or giving a meaningful compliment, can be enough to trigger emotions of flourishing through cultivating high-quality connections and light you up.
How can we cultivate high-quality connections within a team?
Here are some ideas about how you can intentionally cultivate high-quality connections with others:
Through listening and giving-receiving genuine feedback. See my last article on feedback.
Co-creating an explicit agreement of engagement within a team. How do we agree to work together, collaborate, and commit to showing up. The values and behaviours we want to cultivate within the team.
Creating space for high-quality connection. One example is to create a connective space at the start of a meeting through powerful questions and a strong engagement agreement. And, of course, through infrequent micro-moments of checking in and being present with another.
Encouraging equally the 'what' and the 'how'. The 'how' of performance is about the behaviours expressed when achieving the what. Collective goals, where everyone's contribution is critical, can also encourage high-quality connections.
Embracing diversity of thought and engaging through curiosity. We don't need to agree to create a high-quality connection. If we genuinely listen, without judgment and with a willingness to explore another perspective.
Encourage the team to share what a high-quality connection means to each individual and bring ideas on how to cultivate this.
Gudrun Lind is an Executive & Team Coach with two decades of experience in Talent- and Leadership Development within multinational corporations. As a catalyst for human potential, she supports leaders and teams in expanding their capabilities to thrive at work through better conversations that lead to better outcomes.
If you want to explore how I can support you and/or your team - you are very much invited to contact me.