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How to build deeper human connection at work

A Better New Year at Work? A Fresh Start to Deeper Human Connection

by | Jan 2, 2023 | By Karin Hurt and David Dye |

The new year is a great time to talk about what you need at work
-including deeper human connection

The shift to remote work and hybrid teams has left many people longing for deeper human connection. And even for those who’ve returned to the office (or never left in-person work), a few years of “choosing our bubble” has left many of us feeling unmoored.

But, how do you ask for what you need, without appearing needy? The new year provides a natural opportunity to invest in a deeper human connection with your team, your co-workers, and your manager. The benefits are tremendous.

Today we share some tips for opening this conversation.

Why Human Connection Matters: Do You Really Need a Best Friend at Work?

There’s a reason Gallup includes the question, “I have a best friend at work” among its top 12 drivers of employee engagement.

When you have a best friend at work, you’re more likely to feel supported, encouraged, and appreciated. And (you know we love this stat), employees with a best friend at work are 27% more likely to report that their opinions seem to count at work.

Apparently, best friends at work are great courage encouragers.

Even if you have plenty of friends in other areas of your life, there’s a proven connection between human connection and trust. Most of the trust research cites connectedness or “intimacy” as a key component of trusted relationships. It’s hard to trust people we don’t know.

Why It’s Harder Now

Every day we hear concerns about how the lingering feelings from pandemic-induced isolation make their team feel less connected. Most people tell us having a best friend at work is harder now.

  • “I joined my company in the middle of the pandemic, and now we’re staying fully remote. I’ve yet to be in the same room with anyone on my team.”
  • “People hardly even turn their cameras on anymore. It’s hard to feel a human connection staring at a bunch of black boxes.”
  • “It’s not the water cooler I miss. I mean, we didn’t even have an actual water cooler. But I find it harder to get quality one-on-one time with my co-workers in this hybrid team. I have my virtual one-on-one time with my boss, and that’s good. But I miss the other human connections.”
  • “We’ve downsized and now we’re all slammed with extra work. No one seems to have time for casual conversation. And yet, I think we need that now more than ever.”
  • “We all just race from one virtual meeting to another. Technically, I spend all day talking with people. But at the end of the day, I yearn for human connection.”
  • “We used to get together for offsite meetings, but even our end-of-year meeting was virtual this year. I miss people.”
  • “I thought that when we returned to the office, I’d feel more connected. But not much has changed. Honestly, I wonder why I bother making the commute.”

How to Ask For What You Need

This isn’t an article about the pros or cons of hybrid work, or when to bring people together for what. We’ve got lots of thoughts on how to doInnovation and Results that deliberately and well (see 6 habits of highly effective remote and hybrid teams and some ideas for bringing people together for team innovation).

It’s about encouraging courage to ask for the human connection you need.

We’re writing this because we’ve heard from so many people who feel isolated and alone at work but feel like “no one else” seems to have an issue.

As one manager put it, “What if I reach out and ask for more time to get to know people and they say no? That would make me feel even worse.”

So today, we offer a few starting points to invite a deeper connection when you yearn for more.

How to Invite a Conversation About Deeper Human Connection

Of course, there are lots of ways to have this conversation. The best way to ask for what you need is to ask for what you need. But, if you’re feeling awkward or alone, here’s an approach that might help.

1. Ground your ask in business outcomes

If you’re concerned with looking needy, you can ground the conversation in the desire for team success or business outcomes.

For example:

  • “I’ve been thinking about how we can accelerate our teams’ performance in the new year. And I realized how little we actually know about one another. It strikes me that understanding and knowing a bit about one another’s strengths and priorities could really help. How would you feel about setting aside some time in one of our team meetings to get to know one another a little more?”
  • “I really care about the success of this team and have some ideas about how we can collaborate more in the new year. I’d love to hear yours. Can we set up some time to talk?”
  • “We depend on one another a lot on this team, and sometimes I think we shy away from conversations we need to have because we don’t know one another all that well. I think there could be real value in starting the new year by building a deeper human connection. Here are a few conversation starters that can help. What else do you think we might do?”

2. Invest in one relationship at a time

If starting with a team conversation feels overwhelming, another approach is to invest in one relationship at a time. What if you were to identify three people and invest in making a deeper human connection with them in the new year?

A few conversation starters.

  • “It’s been a tricky few years, and we’ve all been so busy. I realize how little I know about you as a person. I’d like to change that. Would you like to go to lunch (or have a virtual coffee) to get to know one another better?”
  • “I admire the work that you do, particularly your approach to _________. I wonder if we could set up some time to learn more about one another, our work, and how we might help one another.”
  • “My new year’s resolution is to get to know my co-workers better.” Would you like to have lunch (a drink, or a virtual coffee)?

3. Balance being interested AND interesting

Authenticity Mistakes: Being Interested without Being InterestingOne of the biggest challenges we hear from people feeling a lack of human connection at work is that their relationships feel too one-sided. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of being overly other-focused—very interested in learning about other people, but not sharing much about yourself.

authenticity mistake: oversharing personal informationOr to err on the other side of telling people more about yourself without being genuinely curious about what’s important to them. Read more in Authenticity Leadership: 5 Big Mistakes that Can Derail Your Influence.

One of the best ways to make deeper human connections is to show up being both interested and interesting whenever you can.

Your Turn

Genuine human connection doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes deliberate effort, particularly in a remote or hybrid team.

And, it matters.

If you’re feeling at all isolated or disconnected, we encourage you to take the first step to find the others who might yearn for this too.

We would love to hear from you. What are your best practices for fostering genuine human connection at work?

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!


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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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