10 Ways to Improve Your Connection Skills

June 16, 2015
Mike Stallard

Everyone in your organization needs to develop connection skills, especially leaders. Managers lead from authority, whereas leaders lead from a combination of authority and connection. 

It is not unusual for managers who are good at organizing tasks to require help developing the personal leadership skills necessary to better connect and maintain a connection with people. Weak connection skills hold many managers back from becoming leaders that people want to follow. The following attitudes, language, and behaviors will help facilitate connection.

  1. Recognize varying connection needs. People have different predispositions when it comes to their sensitivities to feeling connection or lack thereof. People also respond differently to actions in terms of whether or not it makes them feel connected. Learn about the people you lead, and tailor your behaviors to connect based on what you’ve learned about each individual.
  2. Be present in conversations. It has been said that attention is oxygen for relationships. When meeting with people, get in the habit of being present by giving them your full attention. Show that you are engaged and interested by asking questions, and then asking follow-up questions to clarify. Listen carefully, observing facial expressions and body cues. Don’t break the connection by checking your phone, looking around the room, or letting your mind wander.
  3. Develop the ability to empathize. Mutual empathy is a powerful connector that is made possible by mirror neurons in our brains. Mirror neurons act like an emotional Wi-Fi system. When we feel the emotions of others, it makes them feel connected to us. When we feel their positive emotion, it enhances the positive emotion they feel. When we feel their pain, it diminishes the pain they feel. If someone expresses emotion, it’s OK, and natural, for you to feel it too.
  4. Develop the habit of emphasizing positives. Psychologist John Gottman first observed that marriages were less likely to survive when the positive/negative ratio of interactions dipped below 5-to-1 (or five positive interactions to every negative interaction). More recently, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson found that a positivity ratio also applied in the workplace. People need affirmation and recognition, so get in the habit of looking for ways to affirm and serve others. Do this by looking for task strengths and character strengths, which reflect the excellence of a person’s work and the way that person goes about her work, respectively. For example, you might affirm a colleague by saying, “Nancy, that was an outstanding website you created. The navigation design was easy to use, the writing was easy to understand, and the color scheme was beautiful.” You might affirm her character strengths by saying, “Nancy, I appreciate the way you persevered to make our new website happen. You showed wisdom and humility in seeking the ideas of others and applying the best ideas to the design of our new website. Very nicely done.”
  5. Control your tone of voice. Recognize that people will instinctively react to the delivery of your message before they hear its content. They may put up a wall and become defensive or feel threatened if your tone of voice is booming, shrill, or strident.
  6. Negotiate with the mindset to solve a problem rather than to win. You can build connections with people during negotiations if you adopt and maintain the right mindset. Thinking of the people you are negotiating with as competitors leads to disconnection and distrust. Instead, think of them as holding knowledge that you need in order to identify a win-win solution. Negotiating requires probing, patience, and perseverance to understand other people’s objectives, perceptions, and sensitivities.
  7. Provide autonomy in execution. Monitor progress and be available to help your direct reports, but refrain from micromanaging unless they ask for specific help. Favor guidelines rather than rules and controls, and let people know that you are available if they have questions or would like you to act as a sounding board. This meets the human need for autonomy and allows people to experience personal growth.
  8. Learn and apply the five languages of appreciation. Ask your direct reports about the times they remember receiving recognition at work. Find out what their primary and secondary languages of appreciation are. The five languages of appreciation in the workplace are words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch. However, note that physical touch is not a primary language of appreciation in the workplace, and should generally be avoided. To learn more, read Gary Chapman and Paul White’s The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.
  9. Apologize when you make a mistake. We all make mistakes, but not everyone says they’re sorry. Apologizing is an important step that will help rebuild connection.
  10. Develop social skills and relationship skills, and recognize the difference between them. Many individuals develop social skills, which make them excellent networkers who impress and connect with others in casual interactions. However, in addition to social skills, it is essential to develop relationship skills, which help create deeper connections with a few people who have your back. Consider the skills you use when meeting someone for the first time versus nurturing your relationship with a best friend. Relationship skills – regularly spending time with an individual, being open to sharing your struggles, sharing someone’s joy and pain, being there in times of need, and so on –help develop the deeper connections that are necessary for individual wellness and well-being to thrive in life and achieve sustainable superior performance.

Scientific research has shown that human connection makes us more productive, healthier and happier. Research also shows that greater connection boosts revenue, profit and shareholder returns. 

Mark this day, begin connecting and just watch what happens. Over time you will see that connection impacts more than the bottom line. As you experience greater peace, hope and joy that come from having an abundance of connection in your life, you will have discovered wealth of even greater value. 

Adapted from Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work

Michael Lee Stallard, president of cofounder of Connection Culture Group, gives keynote speeches, teaches seminars and workshops, and consults on leadership, team and organization culture, and employee engagement. He is the primary author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Connect with Michael at MichaelLeeStallard.comTwitter and/or Linkedin

Image courtesy of Flickr user Steve Wilson under Creative Commons license 2.0.

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