How productive employees are and how long they stay at a company is directly determined by their relationship with their immediate supervisors. But people rate time with their bosses as the worst part of their day, even compared to doing chores.

It turns out it’s not just our bosses we’re avoiding at work. The Awakened Company, a management consulting firm based in Calgary, Canada, asked people how they like to interact in the workplace. The majority want to work alone or in groups, and only 6 percent prefer one-on-one time. Catherine Bell, founder of the Awakened Company and author of the best-selling book by the same name, was surprised by the findings and set out to learn more about how strong one-on-one relationships influence company performance.

“A colleague once told me, ‘Not having trust is like imposing a tax on an organization. It just makes everything slower,’” Bell tells Conscious Company. “Cultivating one-on-one relationships builds trust within the company. You’ll get things done faster, and work is more fun when you know each other. We get so caught up in our titles, when really we’re all related.”

If the idea of striking up a conversation with someone in another department or lingering in a co-worker’s office for small talk gives you hives, you’re certainly not alone. “Cultivating one-on-one relationships is a blind spot for a lot of people,” Bell says. “It can be very, very, very uncomfortable for some, and that’s okay. We need to lean into our discomfort.” Still nervous? Try these three mental tricks to ease the awkwardness and build genuine workplace relationships that last.

Be mindful.

Okay, so you want to spend one-on-one time with an employee or co-worker. How do you go about doing it? If the idea is uncomfortable for you, take a moment to consider why you feel this way, Bell advises, and begin dismantling your mental roadblocks.

Are you nervous the two of you won’t have anything in common? Think of questions you can ask to get the conversation going. Are you worried your colleague won’t reciprocate? Studies continue to show that relationships make people happy, even more so than money or fame, and our craving for connectedness means people naturally respond to genuine gestures of friendship. It’s all about getting the ball rolling, and don’t feel pressure to connect with everyone. Set a goal that feels attainable — such as booking lunch with a co-worker or subordinate once a month — and be deliberate about sticking with it.

“Building these relationships takes time,” Bell says. “Start with those closest to you, such as your teammates or your direct reports, and spiral outward.”

Listen.

Time with colleagues, whether it’s lunch or a few minutes at the water cooler, is an opportunity to check in on their well being, so make the most of it. “When you’re with them, be present and truly listen to their responses with loving kindness,” Bell advises.

Experts agree that good listeners make good leaders, and research shows that good listening skills come down to active engagement in a conversation, rather than silent head-nodding. “Take the time to connect with them,” Bell says. “Look them in the eye. Ask how they are doing, and listen to their response.”

Let people be themselves.

Research shows that diverse teams feel less comfortable — and that’s why they’re so successful. While we all look for similarities when interacting with new people, it’s equally important to let people be themselves, Bell says. Your colleagues may have opinions that differ from yours, and that’s perfectly fine. You can still have a genuine relationship that leaves both of you feeling respected and fulfilled.

The bottom line

Nearly 70 percent of people say having friends at work makes their job more enjoyable, so taking the plunge into one-on-one relationships comes with a big payoff. “We need to build on the concept of the working relationship,” Bell says. “To me, it’s a missing piece. Through our relationships, we bring humanity back to our organizations. We replace the robotic sense of, ‘I’m here to work,’ with the sense of creating something awesome.”

Mary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni is an environmental journalist and editor based in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in print and online, including TriplePundit, AlterNet, Yahoo Travel and multiple Philadelphia publications including the Philadelphia Daily News. She is available for freelance and you can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.

Rachel Zurer

Rachel is Conscious Company’s editor-in-chief, in charge of wrangling all the words. Before joining the CCM team, she worked at Backpacker and Wired magazines.

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