Our ability to connect and form relationships with each other is crucially important not just from a survival perspective to perpetuate the species, but also to boost adaptability through shared knowledge and collaboration.
At a business level, while a little charisma and charm will go a long way, what matters is establishing a sense of trust (‘this person is not going to harm me’) and potential reward (‘hanging out with this person could lead to something good’).
Our ability to form social bonds is innate but what can you do to enhance your ability to establish meaningful relationships with others without coming across as a cheesy stalker or Jack Nicholson’s evil Joker?
First impressions matter: You can count on that.
The human brain is incredibly adept at picking up cues and coming to a snap judgement about anyone we meet for the first time. The amygdala and posterior cingulate cortex work together to quickly make sense of who is before us and determine whether this new person is of potential value and safe to hang around with.
It’s been said we only need 3 seconds to decide whether we like a person or not, and 90 seconds to determine whether the candidate will be hired for the job.
Daniel Kahneman author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, reminds us that we use heuristics (great word, isn’t it) or mental shortcuts to help us make rapid decisions based on limited information that we then seek to affirm by filling in the gaps with our own beliefs and judgements.
(That’s a hint to suggest we don’t always get this right, by the way)
Relatedness builds trust, effective teams and enhances creativity.
Relatedness matters because its absence leads to social pain, a sense of disconnect and loneliness. You might be the most highly qualified person in the room, but if you are seen as cold, distant and unapproachable everyone misses out from what you could have shared and what others could have asked.
A manager who has good listening skills and who is seen to value the opinions, perspectives and insights of others, promotes a work environment where others feel safe to share their ideas and concerns and to look out for and support each other.
Introversion and shyness is not a barrier to relatedness.
So you don’t have Bill Clinton’s charm, Dr Martin Luther’s oratory or Donald Trump’s bluster? Fear not because charisma and extroversion are not pre-requisites to creating trusting and meaningful relationships.
Feeling more connected with others can be created through the recognition that the brain primarily seeks safety and reward. Once those two factors are taken care of, the real work of enhancing productivity and performance can begin.
Making relatedness work.
Organisations with a high level of trust enjoy a better bottom line and reduced overheads of staff turnover. Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that those organisations where there was a high level of trust in senior leaders showed a 42% higher ROI on shareholder investment.
Create safety through shared commonality.
Asking people about their beliefs, values and interests helps to find common ground, which is especially helpful when your first impression is “we have nothing in common.”
Being listened to and being asked non-threatening questions rather than the ubiquitous “And what is it you do?” helps to create a socially-based platform that builds understanding based on what is real for that person rather than the assumptions and judgments we create from our own biases.
If you want better relationships, you’d better give your full and undivided attention. There’s no greater turnoff than competing for someone’s attention because they are distracted by their mobile phone buzzing, chirruping and pinging, reminding them of all the other connections they have elsewhere that are clearly more important than the person in front of them i.e. you.
Remember it’s all about safety and value. If you consistently turn up late, change plans at the last minute without any explanation or apology, or interrupt a conversation to answer your phone – you are demonstrating that you don’t value (or respect) the other person.
Relatedness is about understanding the other person as human. What experiences have they had? What have been their greatest challenges, successes or fears? What are their aspirations and how can you support them in those?
Safety and value inspire connection, and connection is what leads to motivation and engagement.