Many people are struggling at work today. Gallup research shows an astounding two-thirds of Americans feel disconnected and disengaged at work and nearly 20 percent are so disengaged they periodically work against their employers’ interests.
To improve the situation, we need to develop workplace cultures that reflect biblical wisdom. My colleagues and I describe them as “connection cultures” because people in these cultures feel connected to one another and to the customers they serve.
Connection cultures contrast with many workplace cultures today that are “cultures of control” or “cultures of indifference.” In cultures of control people with power, control, status and influence rule over others (or, as the Bible describes it they “lord it over others”).
Cultures of indifference are rapidly growing today. In these cultures, people are so busy and distracted that they don't take time to build supportive relationships. (Take the Culture Quiz to find out what type of culture you work in.)
Both cultures of control and cultures of indifference are toxic because every man and woman is beloved by God, created in his image and should be recognized and treated as such.
In Romans 12:21 Paul tells us to defeat evil with good. Following are 10 ways you can defeat evil in your workplace by bringing greater goodness through connection so that no one feels unsupported, left out or lonely that the forces of evil always bring about.
1. Recognize varying connection needs. People have different predispositions when it comes to their sensitivities to feeling connection or lack thereof. People also respond differently to actions in terms of whether or not it makes them feel connected. Learn about the people you work with, and tailor your behaviors to connect based on what you’ve learned about each individual.
2. 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 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 around the room, or letting your mind wander.
3. Develop the ability to empathize. Romans 12:15 says to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. The mutual empathy this reflects is a powerful connector made possible by mirror neurons God designed in our brains. Mirror neurons act like an emotional Wi-Fi system. When we feel the emotions of others, it makes them feel connected to us. When we feel their positive emotion, it enhances the positive emotion they feel. When we feel their pain, it diminishes the pain they feel. If someone expresses emotion, it’s good for you to feel it too.
4. Develop the habit of emphasizing positives. Encouragement is a spiritual gift and several passages in Scripture tell us to encourage one another. Research shows how powerful encouragement is. Psychologist John Gottman first observed that marriages were less likely to survive when the positive/negative ratio of interactions dipped below 5-to-1 (or five positive interactions to every negative interaction). More recently, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson found that a positivity ratio also applied in the workplace. People need affirmation and recognition, so get in the habit of looking for ways to affirm and serve others. Do this by looking for task strengths and character strengths, which reflect the excellence of a person’s work and the way that person goes about her work, respectively. For example, you might affirm a colleague by saying, “Nancy, that was an outstanding website you created. The navigation design was easy to use, the writing was easy to understand, and the color scheme was beautiful.” You might affirm her character strengths by saying, “Nancy, I appreciate the way you persevered to make our new website happen. You showed wisdom and humility in seeking the ideas of others and applying the best ideas to the design of our new website. Very nicely done.”
5. Control your tone of voice. One of the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, which should be reflected in our speech. Gentleness is not threatening and it encourages emotions of safety and trust. Recognize that people will instinctively react to the delivery of your message before they hear its content. They may put up a wall and become defensive or feel threatened if your tone of voice is booming, shrill, or strident.
6. Negotiate with the mindset to solve a problem rather than to win. Jesus said one of the greatest commandments is to love your neighbor, which you can do even during negotiations. Adopting a healthy mindset is key. Thinking of the people you are negotiating with as competitors leads to disconnection and distrust. Instead, think of them as holding knowledge that you need in order to identify a win-win solution. Negotiating requires probing, patience, and perseverance to understand other people’s objectives, perceptions, and sensitivities. Rather than trying to “beat” the other party, look for ways to identify a solution so that everyone wins.
7. Provide autonomy in execution. Micromanaging is one way to lord it over others. If you have supervisory responsibility, monitor progress and be available to help your direct reports, but refrain from micromanaging unless they ask for specific help. Favor guidelines rather than rules and controls, and let people know that you are available if they have questions or would like you to act as a sounding board. This meets the human need for autonomy and allows people to experience personal growth.
8. Learn and apply the five languages of appreciation. Ask your direct reports about the times they remember receiving recognition at work. Find out what their primary and secondary languages of appreciation are. The five languages of appreciation in the workplace are words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch. However, note that physical touch is not a primary language of appreciation in the workplace, and should generally be avoided. To learn more, read Gary Chapman and Paul White’s The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.
9. Apologize when you make a mistake. We all make mistakes, but not everyone says they’re sorry. Apologizing is an important step that will help rebuild connection and trust.
10. Develop social skills and relationship skills, and recognize the difference between them. Many individuals develop social skills, which make them excellent networkers who impress and connect with others in casual interactions. However, in addition to social skills, it is essential to develop relationship skills, which help create deeper connections with a few people who have your back. Consider the skills you use when meeting someone for the first time versus nurturing your relationship with a best friend. Relationship skills –regularly spending time with an individual, being open to sharing your struggles, sharing someone’s joy and pain, being there in times of need, and so on –help develop the deeper connections that are necessary for individual wellness and well-being to thrive in life and achieve sustainable superior performance.
In God’s Kingdom there are no lone rangers. We are to be connected with God and with one another to be the royal priesthood described in 1 Peter 2:9. Following Jesus death on the cross, the curtain in the temple around the holy of holies tore from top to bottom. God used this to communicate the old order was no more. Individually we are the priests and together we are a royal priesthood changed with connecting people with God and empowered by the Holy Spirit for that purpose. Pray for God to fill you with the Holy Spirit and to give you favor so that you might defeat evil in your workplace and connect others with God.
Portions excerpted from Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work.
Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, is co-founder of ConnectionCulture.com and co-developer of the Culture Quiz. He speaks, teaches and consults with leaders on workplace culture. His most recent book is Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work.
Publication date: May 26, 2015