Building Relationships Amidst Social Distancing

Enabling People and Organizations in Trying Times

Building Relationships Amidst Social Distancing

Many of us around the globe are learning to adjust to a new (yet temporary) way of living with social distancing. While we may be more physically distant from one another, the foundation for building deep and meaningful relationships remains the same as connections that are energizing, mutual, and embody positive regard. Here are some of the relationship-building practices that can bring people and organizations closer together in this time of need.

Be Curious

Research shows that practices like asking questions that are genuine and positive or noticing something in common foster empathy and high-quality connections between people. The more you get to know each other on a personal level, the stronger you feel connected beyond physical distance.1, 2, 3, 5, 6

  • Convey genuine interest by paying attention or asking questions like, “What’s something that was meaningful to you this week?”
  • Spread positivity by asking questions like, “what are three good things that happened today?”
  • Listen mindfully by being fully present to give the gift of attention to another person, wait to respond until they finish talking, and offer your understanding by starting with, “what I heard you say is…”
Approach with Compassion

In this world of rapid changes, we can benefit together from compassionate interactions more than ever. It is key to recognize what people might be going through to be able to approach each other with compassion. When we act compassionately, we build relationships with a shared sense of humanity that we are experiencing things together which fosters mutual trust, care, and respect.1, 2, 5

  • Act with a “people first” mindset by allowing yourself to ponder, “how does my decision affect this person’s day or life?” before acting. It is also helpful to remember that “there is always pain in the room.”
  • Mentally note “this person is experiencing things more than I can imagine” when you notice a negative assumption filling your mind about someone. Shift your perspective to a positive assumption like “this person is good, capable, and worthy of compassion.” See what you notice when you make this shift.
  • Offer the time and space for employees to reflect. This can be in many forms: 5-10 minutes at the start of the meeting for people to pair up and check-in, a one hour town hall to collectively share thoughts, or a day dedicated for employees to generate ideas on what would help them be at their best in this moment.
Express Gratitude

Encountering negative information can overwhelm our minds, but we can help redirect our awareness to the good that is also happening by fueling our relationships with gratitude. Studies show that infusing our experiences with positive emotions not only foster better relationships but also broaden our perspectives to generate novel thoughts and ideas, build enduring personal resources (e.g., resilience), and enhance growth and sense of fulfillment. Gratitude is something we can all add to our connections.4, 6, 8, 9

  • Send a gratitude letter by writing down your appreciation to someone who has positively impacted your life in some way, noting memories or special moments where you felt touched by the positive relationship you shared with that person.
  • Write down three grateful moments for the day. Research makes it clear that taking the time to notice positive experiences and shifting your attention from our default tendency to look at negative events can boost happiness and sense of well-being. It helps us feel more attuned to appreciating each other being there especially in challenging times.
  • Look for someone to share your “Thank You” by bringing people you interact with into your awareness, and reflect on how they made a difference in your life.
Socialize Online

With the rapid technological advancement, we live in a world where we can still remain connected with one another even amidst social distancing. We can leverage this capability by letting our creativity shine and generate new ways to socialize online. When we can share positive experiences that bring us closer as human beings, we form deeper and more meaningful relationships.10, 11, 12, 13, 14

  • Do a round of “Celebrations” at a team meeting by having each member take a turn sharing one thing they want to celebrate from the past week (e.g., “I got to spend time with my family up north” or “I want to celebrate my colleague who stepped in to help me get this project through the finish line”).
  • Host a virtual get together like coffee chats, happy hour socials, or learning circles where people can come together to socialize for fun and learn from each other.
Create Meaningful Moments

Even when physically distant, we can uplift one another and make a positive difference in each other’s life by infusing interactions with “human moments”. Small gestures can make big impacts in how we cultivate meaningful moments and foster deeper human relationships. 12, 13, 14

  • Make interactions personal by taking time to do introductions in group meetings, sharing our feeling and stories, and ask generative questions that help people learn more about one another.
  • Share positive examples of how people are connecting by talking about them in your conversations, watching/reading them together, and enacting same or similar positive actions. 
  • Show up to your next human interaction with an intention to be kind by listening fully, offering genuine support, and being present for the people you are interacting with.
References
  1. (Book) Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations by Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton
  2. (Book) How to be a Positive Leader by Jane E. Dutton and Gretchen M. Spreitzer
  3. (Blog) “What Questions Work for You in Building High Quality Connections?” by Jane E. Dutton
  4. (Research Article) “In Search of Durable Positive Psychology Interventions: Predictors and Consequences of Long-term Positive Behavior Change” by Michael A. Cohn and Barbara L. Frederickson
  5. (Book) Mindful Listening part of the HBR Emotional Intelligence Series
  6. (Video) “Listening is an Act of Love” by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  7. (Research Article) “Why Compassion Counts!” by Peter Frost (behind pay wall)
  8. (Article) “Four Great Gratitude Strategies” from Greater Good Science Center
  9. (Article) “The Transformative Power of Gratitude” from HuffPost
  10. (Article) “Finding Connections and Resilience During the Coronavirus Pandemic” from The New Yorker
  11. (Blog) “Unleash Your Human Connecting Creativity” by Jane E. Dutton
  12. (Article) “How to Connect Meaningfully in a Virtual Meeting” by Wayne Baker 
  13. (Article) “Human connection bolsters the immune system. That’s why it’s more important than ever to be kind.” from The Washington Post
  14. (Video) “How to Help Others During a Coronavirus Crisis” by Lea Waters

Continuing the Conversation

We want to hear about the amazing work individuals, organizations, and researchers are doing to enable people and organizations to thrive during these trying times. To foster the sharing of ideas, we’ve created a public Facebook Group: Enabling People in Trying Times. Join the group and let’s find strength in our shared knowledge.