High Quality Connections: “Being Our Best As Human Beings”

February 20, 2014

By: Camille Piner

Have you ever had an interaction that leaves you feeling energized and ready to face the rest of the day? There is something special about certain interactions that make you feel more of a connection with someone. Jane Dutton[1] refers to these as “high-quality connections” (HQCs), and cites them as one of the foundational concepts of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS). It’s easy to know one when we see it, but how would we describe them or seek them out?

A video Jane showed called “Touching Strangers[2]” inspired me to think about how many missed opportunities for connection there are.  A photographer named Richard Rinaldi took on a project to pair random people on the street to pose closely together for photos, as if they were family. Although awkward at first, the response was overwhelmingly positive. People realized how comfortable they felt, and that they actually came to “care for [the other person].” I never stop to think about how easily and quickly strangers can come together. A high-quality connection doesn’t have to be with your best friend or your mom, but there are countless opportunities for connection with any person. Someone wisely states in the video, “we are probably missing so much of the people all around us.” This is something we could work to change if we use high-quality connections.

Three signifiers of a high-quality connection are energy, value, and mutuality. Last week I met with my co-facilitator, Carl, for a course I’m teaching, because I was unsure about a presentation. After I practiced my speech for him, he did not simply tell me what I should say to make it better. He asked me questions that required me to reflect on my experience. He asked, “why did you want to facilitate this course in the first place?” And my thoughtful answer provided me with the insight I needed to confidently conclude my presentation. Carl showed confidence in my abilities and demonstrated an investment in my success. He knew I could do it, so he gave me some tools to help me get there. Besides being a naturally energizing person, Carl showed that he valued me while also demonstrating mutual responsiveness, even though his job is at least two levels above mine. If we continue to “look for the good in the other,” as Jane recommended, and show that other that we value them, we can continue to spark these high-quality connections.

Astoundingly, these HQCs also result in physiological changes in the body. Jane cited scientific research that found benefits of HQCs immediately after the interaction, and also afterwards upon recall of the event. We have greater capacity to perform on tasks at the individual and organizational level. Individually we have a greater openness, flexibility, and emotional carrying capacity (leaving us more equipped to carry both positive and negative emotions). Enhanced cooperation, adaptability and creativity has been found at the organizational level, which could boost team performance in the workplace. I can recognize my happiness and productivity after sharing a HQC, but this data is amazing because even our bodies physiologically respond in a beneficial way.

What can you do to initiate higher-quality connections with people in your life? Think about a time when you tend to experience low quality connections lacking depth and meaning, and how you could start making the most of them. Now that I recognize the plentiful opportunities I have, I will challenge myself to ask meaningful questions in conversations with new people in order to, “be our best as human beings with each other,” as Jane said beautifully.


[1] Jane Dutton is the Robert L. Kahn, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology