"Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike." –J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
When we form a relationship, we form a tie between ourselves and another person. Our relationships generally begin with a point of connection through something we share in common, and these ties gradually strengthen with time if we continue to nurture these relationships.
The question posed for leaders is: where is your weakest employee tie?
In other words, who on your team do you feel the least connected to?
Why is this important in the context of business? For starters, strong relationships are the foundation of a strong culture, and strong cultures lead to better business results. Issues such as disengagement, poor performance, and retention are often—at the root—relational in nature. And it's the quality of our conversations that dictates the quality of these relationships.
A 2015 survey from SHRM reported the top engagement condition for 79% of respondents was their relationship with coworkers.
When our fundamental human need for belonging is unfulfilled and we have weak relationships with our coworkers, we don't perform our best. In fact, A 2013 Gallup poll revealed 22% of respondents were actively disengaged at work, and 1 in 4 Americans feel ignored by their manager. If leaders neglect relationships with one or more of their teammates, the impact will be felt both individually and organization-wide.
Throughout my years of employment, I have experienced strong ties with my coworkers and I have also experienced the contrasting feeling of "not fitting in." I'm sure most of us have felt these two ends of the spectrum at some point in our careers. When ties are strong, engagement improves and provides us with a greater sense of inspiration, trust, and loyalty that is directly reflected in our work performance.
As a leader, ask yourself the following questions to create awareness around your own possibly unconscious behaviors:
- Am I intimidated by this person? Does this person dredge up my own insecurities in some way?
- Am I showing favoritism and excluding certain people from conversations?
- Are my biases contributing to this weak tie? How might this be affecting my teammates and colleagues? (Read more on identifying your own biases here).
There are several ways a weak tie can manifest:
- The other person is aloof with you.
- You're aloof with them but haven't pinpointed why.
- You have very different contexts or backgrounds that have kept you from connecting through similarities.
- They tend to keep to themselves or only talk to certain people within the team.
- They're simply new to the team and you have yet to develop a closer bond.
Our weakest ties are often people we're in relationship with based on an external factor (such as the fact that we work at the same organization) and have yet to connect with them on a deeper level. We can build relationships with coworkers that transcend the workplace to the point where they are as close to us as friends and family. This may not always be the case of course, and we don't have to be BFFs with everyone on our team, but there are still steps you can take to strengthen these relationships and create a workplace culture of trust, belonging, respect, and "psychological safety"—holding the belief that you won't be punished when you make a mistake.
Exploring the cause is a valuable tool for awareness, but action is needed to reverse the impact. Here are some effective ways to strengthen your weakest tie:
Get to know each other on a personal level. The point isn't to single the person out, but to get to know them the way you may know your other team members. Ask them out to lunch or out to grab a cup of coffee during a walk-and-talk meeting. In addition to having coaching conversations related to their professional growth, ask about what they value and what matters most to them. Listen with curiosity. Ask about how you can support them in achieving their goals.
Find what you have in common. At Fierce, we believe people are more alike than different. We all have points of connection, even if we have to dig a bit deeper to find them. Find a way to engage them in conversation that isn't directly related to work, and call out points of connection when talking with them about their weekend, their hobbies, and that strange plant on their desk.
Address mokitas. Mokitas, a Papua New Guinean term for what's otherwise known as the elephant in the room, hinder connection when left unaddressed. If there's a mokita present, it's important to address it directly. Perhaps there has been a small conflict without resolution, or maybe you simply got started on the wrong foot when they first joined the team. If you have questions for them related to their perceptions or their interactions with you, ask—get curious, promote candor, and interrogate reality.
Practice ongoing feedback conversations. It's essential to give and ask for feedback on an ongoing basis. With your weakest tie, you may be giving or requesting feedback far less frequently. This inhibits their growth, and yours. Show your appreciation for the quality work they're producing and communicate areas where you see room for improvement.
If you think there s a way to strengthen your weakest employee tie without conversation, think again. The conversation is the relationship. Start the conversation today that will help strengthen your weakest tie.
For more on conversations and engagement, download our whitepaper 6 KEY TRENDS THAT INCREASE EMPLOYEE PRODUCTIVITY AND ENGAGEMENT.