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Culture Building

Successful Teams Need More Than Communication: How to Build Meaningful Connections

By ROHEI
24 February 2022

In a Nutshell

  • There has been a sharp increase in communication at the workplace even though people may be physically separated.
  • While communication at the workplace has increased significantly, people are reportedly feeling more stressed, burnt out and worse still isolated.
  • Communication must be purposed to build connection and social capital, starting with trust.

Communication

Communication, as the Cambridge dictionary tells us, is “the process by which messages or information is sent from one place or person to another”. We all know that communication is vital in any relationship and organisations agree that communication is key to rallying stakeholders together, especially during a crisis. 

Since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, we’ve seen a sharp increase in communication at the workplace even though people may be physically separated. Just look at the number of (virtual) meetings we attend daily, some of which are scheduled back-to-back with hardly a break in between! There is also an array of tools that facilitate ease of communication, enabled by technology - messaging, emailing, virtual and collaborative software on platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Slack, ProofHub, to name a few. 

But it seems communication is not quite what people need or crave, particularly in this crazy time we’re all in! 

The Straits Times (ST) says that ‘one in two logs extra hours since Covid-19 pandemic started.’ The study, commissioned by ST and executed by consumer research firm Milieu Insight, found that remote working/working from home has blurred the line due to “difficulties in drawing the boundaries with work-from-home arrangements, increased tasks… and covering for colleagues who have quit”. Observers expressed that the findings are not surprising with overseas studies confirming that Covid-19 has disrupted work schedules, with people more likely to work outside of the usual nine-to-five hours on Mondays to Fridays and on weekends. 

ManpowerGroup Singapore Country Manager said that as people need to spend time preparing for different scenarios on the fluid business situation brought about by COVID-19, the mental health of workers has become a concern as “employees are increasingly getting burnt out”.

Learn more about how to help teams that are languishing amidst the pandemic here.

Here’s the irony: why is it that while communication at the workplace has increased significantly, people are reportedly feeling more stressed, burnt out and worse still isolated?

Because communication ≠ connection

To put things into context, we are not dismissing the importance of communication but challenging us to go beyond communication to connection. 

 

Communication at the workplace has increased significantly, but why are people feeling more stressed, burnt out and isolated? Because communication ≠ connection.

 

If we examine and compare the two more closely, we would realise that communication is the act of transferring or exchanging of information whereas connection is “a relation or link between things or people” (Merriam Webster dictionary). There can be communication without connection (John C. Maxwell).

The corporate world (globally) is seeing an unprecedented wave of staff quitting in what is now known as the Great Resignation or the Great Reshuffle because while people are increasingly communicating more at work over virtual meetings and chat groups, they are paradoxically feeling more isolated which translates to the lack of connection. 

So… what can we do, one may ask?

 

Building Connection with Your Teams

Try reframing communication beyond the transfer of information (one-way approach) but with the purpose of connecting with others as fellow human beings. When leaders take this approach, they do a much better ‘job’ engaging with their audiences/stakeholders, especially in times of crisis and change. It helps people adjust to the constantly changing conditions crises bring (Harvard Business Review). Employees need clear direction from senior management, but they also need connection.

 

Reframe communication beyond the transfer of information, but rather with the purpose of connecting with others as fellow human beings.

 

Employees who are connected with people they work with feel more included and are nearly five times more likely to report increased productivity. The connection assures them that they are valued and are a part of something bigger than themselves. It also helps to break down the silo mentality, fosters a spirit of collaboration and heightens their sense of belonging.

An article dated 25 September 2021 in The Economic Times reported that “when employees feel less connected to their workplace, culture and purpose, the likelihood of great work falls about 90 per cent, the probability of burnout increases drastically and the odds that employees will leave within three years surges”. (The Economic Times)

 

Building Connection with Trust

Like muscles in our bodies that need to be developed, being relational to connect is an ability that requires work. Hence one must be intentional and have a game plan. It is a decision we take every day to put people first, to build connection and trust. A relational approach truly honours, values and affirms others of their intrinsic worth. A relational approach maintains, builds and can even restore trust. 

Trust is the currency in a healthy relationship, the key ingredient in establishing meaningful connections. Trust builds social capital.

Watch our video on how leaders can build connections here.

 

Trust is the currency in a healthy relationship, the key ingredient in establishing meaningful connections. Trust builds social capital.

 

The pandemic has surfaced a critical component in the business world: social capital. It is described as "the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively" or  “a set of shared values that allows individuals to work together in a group to effectively achieve a common purpose” (Investopedia).

 

What constitutes social capital? 

It is the informal and human interactions at work. We rely on our social capital every time we hit a dead end. It may come in the form of someone who cares enough to extend a hand even though they don’t have to. It shows up when we are given advice when we ask for it. We also help others build their social capital when we go above and beyond to support them with knowledge, mentoring, or kindness (Harvard Business Review).

 

We rely on our social capital every time we hit a dead end.

 

Trust is, therefore, the foundation of building social capital. According to Maggie Wooll in her article How to build trust in the workplace: 10 effective solutions, it’s critical that leaders simultaneously develop both types of trust - practical and emotional. The former constitutes being responsible and competent in the work assigned while the latter is about feeling emotionally safe, being respected and having the assurance that someone’s got your back. The higher the trust level is in an organisation or team, the greater the social capital there is to tap on especially in times of crisis. It is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but an imperative in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world that we are in.

 

It’s critical that leaders simultaneously develop both types of trust - practical and emotional — MAGGIE WOOLL 

 

Empathy Paves The Way

One thing is evident: social capital doesn’t happen by chance. It falls on leaders of an organisation to build up its social capital and pave the way for connections to take place. It’s more than having leaders who are good and inspiring communicators; it’s about leaders seeking to understand their employees when they communicate. 

 

Building social capital is more than having leaders who are good and inspiring communicators; it's about leaders seeking to understand their employees.

 

In other words, it has everything to do with empathy. Far too often, managers are more eager to offer solutions or dispense advice, but what is needed is to listen. Actively listening means fully concentrating on the other person to appreciate not just what’s spoken but also the motivations and emotions involved. It’s responding in a way that the other person feels understood and heard. It requires us to go against the urge to prescribe solutions. 

A case in point is when a head of department at ROHEI noticed that her team members were not as responsive as she’d hoped them to be. The leader decided to use their upcoming meeting to listen to each individual’s pain points and perspectives instead of broaching the subject on the lack of responsiveness. This paved the way for the leader to then share her realities and concerns without making the staff feel like they were being reprimanded. Tension and stress was mitigated and there was better engagement thereafter all around. 

Active listening is the foundation to achieving a clear exchange and a shared understanding. It centres on empathy, which requires our full attention to understand the whole message of what is spoken and unspoken.

Learn more about how empathy helps leaders build companies that last here.

 

Communicate to Connect in building Social Capital

People are connected by the sharing of their needs, dreams, fears in a safe space without judgement. In the current climate where there is no end in sight of the pandemic and where relationships are fragmented on many levels, it is even more needful to be intentional in communicating to connect, building social capital, and listening with empathy. 

To learn more about Relational Leadership, download our Relational Leadership e-book.

 

You May Explore:

relational leadership

How ROHEI can help you with Culture Building

We help organisations build cultures in a deliberate and strategic manner to help solve their business challenges. Find out more about our approach here.

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