In my last article, I shared two TED Talks on connection. In Susan Pinker’s TED Talk, she referenced the research of Julianne Holt-Lunstad which found that “social integration” provided a 91% increase in the odds of survival for individuals. But what is social integration and how can you encourage it in your own life?
Social integration reflects the broad ways in which we interact with people throughout each day. With social integration, people feel connected to a community such as their family, the people they regularly commute with on a train, and/or their colleagues at work and customers.
Increasing connection in your workplace culture and the bond you have with your colleagues and customers boosts social integration in your life. Try these 10 practices to get started:
- Expect the best of people - Frances Hesselbein, who led the turnaround of the Girl Scouts, always expects the best in others. This kind of mindset helps you to connect with people.
- Personalize your greeting - When meeting someone for the first time, a simple practice to help you remember the person’s first name is to use it three times early in the conversation.
- Seek the unique - When meeting people for the first time, ask questions to identify something unique about them. Doing this will make you more likely to remember the person. Elizabeth Dole, the former president of the Red Cross, did this and frequently brought up in conversation what was unique about a person the next time she saw him or her.
- Know their stories - Take time to get to know the people you work with, especially your direct reports. Have coffee or a meal with them. Ask questions to learn about their lives and what’s important to them: “What are you passionate about?” “What are your interests outside of work?” “Where did you grow up?” “What do you like to do during your free time?” “Which leaders have inspired you and why?” These questions typically open the door for you to ask follow-up questions, and will give you insights into how the people you work with are wired, including what they value at work and in their lives. Psychologist James Pennebaker has found that when you get people to talk, they feel more connected to you, like you more, and believe they learn more from you.
- Acknowledge people in meetings - When you enter a room, and it’s appropriate given the context and number of people present, take time to greet or non-verbally acknowledge each individual present, even when you are familiar with people. Not personally acknowledging them, either at the start or close of the meeting, runs the risk of giving them the impression that you’re indifferent.
- Be present in conversations - It has been said that attention is oxygen for relationships. When meeting with people, get in the habit of being present by staying focused on them and giving them your full attention. Show that you are engaged and interested by asking questions and then asking follow-up questions to clarify. Listen carefully, observing facial expressions and body cues. Don’t break the connection by checking your phone, looking at your watch or around the room, or letting your mind wander.
- Proactively help others - Seize opportunities to help others. Send your colleagues any information you come across that affirms the vision, that may help them do their jobs better, that relates to a topic they are interested in, or that may help them in some way outside work.
- Connect over lunch - In many workplace cultures, taking lunch away from your desk may brand you as a slacker. However, taking time to connect with people who energize you is a great way to boost your personal productivity by refreshing and re-energizing your brain.
- Be a connection catalyst - Research has shown that the emotions of individuals and groups can spiral up or down. Take the initiative to enhance the emotions of others by being optimistic and upbeat. By intentionally making connections with others, you can become a catalyst to positive emotions.
- Express your thanks - When someone does something for you, be sure to say “thank you.” This seems obvious, but you would be surprised by how many people neglect this common courtesy. If the person did something for you that required considerable effort on his part, send a handwritten thank you note. Several outstanding leaders I know send handwritten thank you notes on a regular basis. They understand that a handwritten note stands out in this age of electronic communications and conveys how much they value the recipient.
For more practices, download our free e-book, 100 Ways to Connect.
More From Michael Lee Stallard
Michael Lee Stallard, president and cofounder of Connection Culture Group, speaks, teaches and consults on leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. He is the author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Follow him on his blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn.