High Quality Connections

October 12, 2015

By: Jennifer Evans

I have been feeling happier than usual and started to wonder why. As I pondered, I saw images of a number of interactions I’d been enjoying. Thanks to Jane Dutton at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, I have a concept to wrap around such energizing experiences. She calls these energizing moments High Quality Connections (HQC). HQC’s can be as short as 30 seconds and they benefit our bodies instantaneously. They are proven to leave us stronger, more resilient, more physiologically resourceful and with a broader capacity to think. I do feel strengthened, energized and happier when I both invite and recognize these connections.

As a believer, I decided to more intentionally recognize what I’ve done and describe what I could do to keep my HQC – Q high. (High Quality Connection Quotient – my term not part of the research!) Sometimes I feel shy or vulnerable about reaching towards connection and sometimes it’s just a happy spontaneous combustion.

Make eye contact and express recognition

Don’t be shy about being happy to see someone, wave. Risk that they might not recognize me.

  • I had a nice connection with one of our Japanese MBA students. I actually don’t know if we ever formally met. But we were always happy to see each other and would bow, wave, smile and on occasion have a quick exchange. We both lit up.

Break taboos

Elevators are great for this. Talk to someone, ask what’s up.

  • I recently found myself walking into the business school elevator of very quiet and still people lined up against the back and side. For some crazy reason I chose not to turn my back, rather I stayed facing them – including the Dean. As I stood there looking at them I said out loud that I couldn’t remember the word for what I was acting against and she filled in my blank ….”the cultural norm.”   We enjoyed a short HQC type chat in our three floor trip. The Dean departed and the chat continued for another couple of floors with another now energized rider.

Since my elevator experience when our paths later crossed, I engaged with both of those people this time with more ease. The short connections seemed to have had a cumulative effect.

Learn something about someone and ask about it

  • I have a shy colleague who I see only occasionally. She once shared a personal hobby with me. When I see her I ask about it and it feels nice to connect around something that matters to her.

Compliment people

Even those who are above me in the hierarchy. I recognize my own hesitation to do this as I have a long habit of thinking they don’t need my feedback and that to express it would be presumptuous.

  • One way I breach my own resistance to this is to notice new publications or awards received by our faculty and express appreciation. They seem happy to receive it.

Briefly share how I really am when someone asks

Take a risk that they really want to know, whoever they are.

  • I was walking down the hall when one of our professors I’d not really spoken to before asked what I was doing for Thanksgiving. I said no plans….which took some humility but was the truth. She invited me to her home which was a nice outcome of this short HQC.

Share what interests me in non-demanding ways

Build environments that support interaction. Notice how rules intended to support one thing can impair opportunities for connection.

  • I’ve been putting things that I find fun or interesting on the wall outside of my office. People often stop to comment and this offers a shared laugh or quick exchange. I’ve posted various things. The definition of “alacrity” led to mutual surprise, Yogi Berra quotes to mutual laughs and words Shakespeare coined to shared wonderment.

I’ve been told that there was a rule prior to my arrival that we were not allowed to put anything on the wall or doors to our offices. The intention was professional uniformity which is valid of course but these opportunities for connection would have been lost.

Invite help

  • I was at the grocery store fighting two stuck shopping carts and was about to move on but rather asked a fellow if he wanted to help me get them unstuck. So he started yanking against my yanking and then he just moved a flap out of the way and they unstuck.  I noted “that was easy” and we had a little laugh.

Be responsive

Notice when someone is reaching out to connect and reach back to engage.

  • I was heading towards the parking lot and two men were just ahead of me. I felt a little awkward about who was going first so I paused. One opened the door for me and said “we’ve been waiting for you.” I expressed thank you more expressively than I usually might and this small exchange made for a nice connection.

Be observant

Notice what people like and do that thing.

  • One of our newer professors is German and I overheard him speaking to someone about the pronunciation of his name. I asked him what he had been clarifying and he told me “the correct way” but also said he didn’t mind much either way. I’ve been pronouncing his name the German way and he lights up a tad each time he hears it – he said it makes him happy.

Jane’s research describes four pathways we can engage that will build High Quality Connections:

  1. Respectful engagement – be present
  2. Task enabling – helping
  3. Building Trust – be vulnerable
  4. Playing – initiate playfulness

It’s been fun to see that my recent HQC‘s do fall into these realms and I like that I’m influencing my own energy and happiness in these ways.

See you in our next connection!