6 Tips to Strengthen Co-Worker Connections

April 22, 2022 Dan Tomasulo, Ph.D.

I have learned that to be with those I like is enough. ~Walt Whitman

cut out hands in a circle The research on the topic of work and well-being is exceedingly clear. The quality of workforce relationships influences well-being, directly affecting the bottom line. As an example, in a survey of more than 15 million people it was revealed that those with high-quality, friendly work relationships were 7x more likely to be engaged at work.

This type of engagement is the very essence of motivation. We know it is at the core of correcting absenteeism, presentism, and low productivity. Why? Because if you are working on a team with colleagues and acquaintances and you put in an unenthusiastic effort, your motivation may result in an upset manager or a disgruntled client. But if you gave that same exertion to a team with high-quality relationships –you’re letting down your friends.

Relationships are like a harvest that needs attention to be planted, nourished, watered, and weeded. They tend to wither or not produce good fruits if they are neglected. But knowing what it is you can do to nurture a relationship can be daunting at first. How much? How often? What kind? These are all important concerns when thinking about where to begin and follow up. Relationship science has given us important findings on how to strengthen relationships. Essentially it has to do with how we approach and connect with each other.

High-Quality Connection (HQC) refers to research originally begun by Jane Dutton and her colleagues and refers to positive, short-term paired interactions.

This shared positive experience between two people (who do not need to know each other) can be very brief, energizing, and improve physical and mental well-being. The host of positive benefits that can come from HQCs range from boosts in performance, resourcefulness, greater concentration, and psychological safety. The latter is particularly important because the HQCs feel safe enough to express their uncertainties. If you want your company to thrive, it first needs to feel like a safe place to work.

What are the mechanics of an HQC? How can you make them happen? There are several components. Here are six essential characteristics.

1. Awareness

This might seem obvious, but acknowledging that there are two people in the conversation is the foundation for being ready to connect. If it is just one of you delivering information or receiving, the chance for a genuine interaction wanes. Begin by thinking about the fact that someone is joining you and they may be coming to this meeting with a very different readiness and awareness than you.

2. Presence

This allows you to be fully in the encounter. Don’t be guilty of phubbing (snubbing someone you’re talking with in person in favor of your phone) or become distracted while in the conversation. This lack of presence and engagement makes the connection feel weak and unimportant. Save your dyads for when you can be fully present.

3. Genuineness

Try to bring all of your attention to what the person is saying, and choose your words back with a sense of authenticity. To start and maintain an HQC you’ll need to listen and speak with an emphasis on being open, honest, and transparent. If you are trying to mask your feelings and reactions, it is likely to be another form of distraction in your conversation.

4. Supportive

Offer words of encouragement, understanding, and empathy; particularly when these expressions are genuine, the impact is tremendous. It will continue to make people feel safe and willing to talk about their uncertainties. This helps to create a bond and adds to psychological safety.

5. Affirmative

When engaged with others in an HQC, being affirmative doesn’t mean agreeing with their perspective, commentary, or point of view. Being affirmative isn’t approval of what was said. Rather, it can be an affirmation of how they see things, or how they will handle something. “It sounds like you felt ignored by the vendor,” is affirming what was said – not agreeing with it.

6. Active listening

This concept has been around for a very long time and yet is still not always practiced. In being an active listener, you feed back to someone what you heard them say. A large percentage of errors in communication comes from a lack of active listening. An active listening statement typically creates a natural pause in the conversation. “Let me make sure I am understanding - you finished the report on time, but they said they didn’t get it, is that right?”

This active listening does two things. First, it allows you to assimilate what is being said, put it into your own words, and feed it back for review. Secondly, it allows for confirmation or clarification. In this example, the feedback given could be responded to by saying: “Yes, that’s right. I worked for two weeks on the report to get it in on time and they ignored it.” Or, as a clarification: “Well, I only finished part of the report, but they wouldn’t accept it.” In either case, the connection and conversation remain a positive experience between two people.

In particular, HQCs are seen as essential practices for bolstering positivity and engagement and buffering against negative emotions and disengagement. While this has been true in general, it has been particularly important during and in the aftermath of the pandemic.

As we shift to working more remotely and more often HQCs need to be modified, enhanced, and employed more creatively—but are still essential.

Here are some dos and don’ts you may want to consider as you engage on a virtual platform:

1. Don’t jump right into the work. Do give some time for your co-workers to chat about non-work activities.

2. Don’t keep all of your essential connections email-only. Do offer an opportunity for a call or a virtual meeting.

3. Don’t be all business all the time. Do use your humor, and when possible, share a funny story about the challenge of working remotely.

4. Don’t have long awkward silences. Do have some questions or transition comments ready to move the conversation along.

5. Don’t end on a downer. Do end with a thank you, an affirmation, and/or gratitude. This is true even if the meeting was a difficult one. Saying something like: “I know we covered a lot of ground today, and there is still more for us to do. But I deeply appreciate us starting this conversation and for you spending time with me to sort it out.” People will remember how they felt at the end of a meeting.

HQCs are, at the end of the day, a form of consciousness about making the moments we live at work more enjoyable, productive, and easier to accept. Work-life balance isn’t about two separate components of our being on different ends of a scale. As HQCs can attest, it is bringing balance to our life at work.


About the Author

Dan Tomasulo, Ph.D.

Dan is a counseling psychologist, psychodramatist, author, professor at Columbia University, and a featured speaker at Workhuman Live in Atlanta.

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