How Can Leaders Build Bridges of Connection?

An interview with Carol Kauffman.

As vaccination levels rise and organizations begin to expect to see their workers back in the workplace, research suggests that 47% of workers are feeling anxious about a return to their pre-COVID working practices.

“Too often, people experience stress in the workplace as a result of poor communication, ineffective leadership and poor negotiation skills,” explained Carol Kauffman, assistant professor at Harvard University, where she is the founder of the Institute of coaching, when we spoke with her recently.

“Leaders need to consider how to get the most out of each interaction they have. By simply asking the question—Who do I want to be in this situation, right now?—leaders can ‘circuit break’ habitual thinking patterns and take a more intentional approach.”

Building connection doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but with the growing list of management expectations and ongoing uncertainty, it’s understandable that leaders are finding it challenging to maintain enthusiasm, patience, or attention.

The challenge is that recent research has found a significant decline in the number of workers who trust their leaders to make sensible decisions about their future, suggesting that connection is going to be critical for leaders in the coming months as they re-build trust with their teams.

Kauffman suggested creating bridges of connection by:

  • Leading like a coach.

When there is a challenging conversation, instead of telling someone what to do, ask the other person three questions about their knowledge and experience on the topic. This not only builds a bridge with them, but helps both of you identify strengths and make a connection. It not only builds the bridge and invites them back to your perspective, it also helps validate their knowledge and their contribution to the conversation. And you might also learn something along the way.

 

  • Start using the “Platinum Rule.” 

The Golden Rule is to treat others as you would like to be treated, but this fails to account for the variations in the ways people prefer to be treated. The Platinum Rule is to treat people the way they prefer to be treated, which often has a better outcome. For example, some people like lots of praise and public recognition; others prefer a simple thank you on a Post-it note as a way of being thanked. Having insight into what the various preferences are for your people will help you navigate the complexities of being a leader and will help build engagement and connection with your people. When you can be agile and responsive to what people need, you may find bridges tend to pop up on their own.

 

  • Coaching up to increase psychological safety. 

In the same way that a leader shouldn’t expect their people to read their mind, team members also can’t expect a boss to mind-read either. You may have a situation where your boss is being critical of your work, or hasn’t understood why you’ve done what you’ve done. Rather than jump straight into defensive explaining mode, try “coaching up” by taking these steps:

  1. Let your boss know you’re glad to be having the conversation because you’re keen to learn from them.
  2. Listen to their perspective.
  3. Then, say to them, “Hmmm, I never thought of it that way, can I walk you through my thinking so you can help me identify where I’m going wrong?”
  4. How can you build bridges of connection today?

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