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Can you still foster High Quality Connections while remote working?

Cast your mind back to the last time you were sat in a meeting room with another person (feels like an age, doesn’t it?!). How did that meeting go? Did the other person give you their full attention and respect? Did you bounce ideas off each other? Were you both in sync? Or were they distracted, typing on their laptop or fiddling with their phone? 

The first type of scenario goes some way to describing what Jane Dutton refers to as a High Quality Connection (HQC). These are the kinds of conversations which are marked by ‘mutual positive regard, trust and active engagement on all sides’. They’re the interactions that you come away from with a big smile on your face, a feeling of lightness in the body and an increased sense of energy and enthusiasm. 

The second scenario is what has been coined disrespectful engagement, or nonengagement. These interactions deplete energy, lower motivation and leave us with a heavy feeling in our stomachs. But how many of us can genuinely say that we give our full attention to others 100% of the time? I for one certainly can’t. 

Model for high quality connections

But how important are HQC’s for organisational success? After reading the research, I’d go so far as to say absolutely vital. It’s logical really; we’ve all been in conversations where we feel open, energised and respected. And it’s a lovely feeling. We come away feeling positive and empowered. This kind of engagement within the workplace can confirm self worth and reaffirm competence, giving people a heightened sense of their abilities. 

Just imagine a workplace where everyone is walking round feeling positive, empowered and confident in their abilities. How much potential would that unlock for an organisation?

Of course this is very simplistic. As vibrational beings, it only takes one poor quality interaction or negative person to throw the entire energy of a department off. But raising awareness is always the first step…

So, as the prospect of remote working for many is set to remain until at least the end of 2020, it got me thinking. What impact, if any, will this have on our ability to foster high quality connections? Let’s look at the five main strategies;

  1. Conveying presence

This is all about giving your full attention to the other person (eye contact included), without any distractions (including daydreaming or thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner this evening!). Social psychologist Joost Meerloo says; “The delight in conversation comes not from making sense, but from making contact.” 

This will vary entirely on your home situation and technology set up. With the wide array of video conferencing options available, I’d be surprised if anyone genuinely couldn’t connect visually (if you choose to turn your camera off, it’s time to embrace it). But how many calls have you been on where someone (or you) has had the added challenge of children running into the room or a delivery driver turning up? And how many of you have succumbed to the temptation of clicking on another tab or opening a notification that comes through on your laptop whilst talking to someone? When in person, it’s as simple as closing our laptops. But when your laptop becomes the tool in which you communicate, we no longer have that luxury.

  1. Being genuine

We all have an inbuilt authenticity radar. Though admittedly, some tend to fire more strongly than others. What I’m trying to say is, it’s usually pretty easy to sense when someone is putting on a ‘front’ when you’re with them in person. But is it as easy to sense it when you’re not in the same room? 

  1. Communicating affirmation

It might make some people squirm, but it’s been shown that publicly recognising the value someone brings to an organisation creates a breeding ground for high quality connections. 

At one point, Linkedin became awash with people posting photos of gifts from their employers. This may have slowed down but if there’s one thing you do today, tell a colleague how much you appreciate their impeccable attention to detail or how their positive energy makes them a pleasure to work with.

There’s no reason why remote working should prevent us from affirming others. In fact, maybe we should use it to get into the habit of doing this more regularly. 

  1. Effective listening

I’ve written about this before because it’s something that we’re traditionally not very strong at. And without presenting a ‘get out of jail free card’, there is a logical reason for it. The human brain can comprehend around 600 spoken words per minute, but speech usually flows at 100 to 150 words per minute. Our minds therefore look for other things to keep them busy. 

But this doesn’t mean we can’t listen effectively, it just means we have to put that extra bit of effort in to keep our minds focused on what the other person is saying.

Although it can take some practice (particularly when there might be other distractions around), there are some great techniques that can absolutely be used while remote working to show the other person that you’re hearing what they’re saying:

  • Paraphrase: repeat back what someone said in your own words to check your understanding.
  • Summarise: try to condense what the person said into three or four points.
  • Clarify: ask questions to make sure you know the full picture. ‘In what way?’ is a simple yet effective open question that you can ask someone for more clarity on a situation.
  • Ask for feedback: ask the other person if you are understanding correctly and if they feel you’re hearing them.
  1. Supportive communication

Without necessarily being able to see someone’s full body language or facial expressions (hello poor wifi connection), what we say and how we say it is all the more important, along with checking that we have been understood. Supportive communication means expressing our views and opinions with clarity, while minimising defensiveness. 

Using positive language can go a long way to ensuring interactions with team members are supportive. This means letting people know what you do want rather than don’t want. For example, ‘I’d like you to summarise your progress weekly’ versus ‘I don’t need to know this amount of detail’. Also try to be as specific as possible so team members know what is expected of them. This is even more key with people working from home to ensure a lack of certainty doesn’t create any feelings of anxiety or stress.

It’s certainly possible to have High Quality Connections while remote working but there’s no denying that it presents additional challenges. What’s more, I would argue that the impact of a HQC is shorter when remote working as the energy somewhat dissipates after the big red button is pressed, rather than being passed to other coworkers you go on to immediately converse with when you’re in the office environment.

What do you think? Have your relationships improved, deteriorated or stayed the same while home working? Do you feel connected or do you miss the in person interactions?

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