Building Bonds

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

This month, we’re told to focus on romantic love, and encouraged to buy flowers, chocolates, and candy hearts to express our fondness for loved ones. And while these are fun — especially if you like candy —  there may be a better way to communicate your affections. Consider devoting some time this month to the emotional intelligence competency of building bonds.

Good friends and trusted colleagues are hard to come by. And there’s a reason. Many of us are lacking the skills it takes to nurture and maintain deep relationships.

With the rise of technology use, especially when it’s used to replace in-person interactions, and the ever-increasing number of people who are working remotely, alone, isolated from colleagues and clients, opportunities to connect with others face-to-face seem to be dwindling.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

– Helen Keller, Activist & Teacher

Andrea Michelli, Professor of Early Intervention in Mental Health, King’s College London, reported in a January 2022 article that 45% of those in the UK reported feelings of loneliness. She notes, “With reports that loneliness has been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are concerns that it could reach epidemic proportions by 2030, unless action is taken.”[]

The ability to build bonds with others is not some magical quality which only a few individuals are gifted to possess. It is something we all can develop. Those who are good at building bonds tap into their extensive networks of connections to share ideas, offer collaboration, and gain support when needed. They’re able to build rapport easily and earn the trust of others. Not only do they have a close-knit web of personal friends, they get along with colleagues at work and are not afraid to be open and authentic to build friendships in the workplace. They’re respectful of others and value people and perspectives which are different than their own.

When people struggle with this competency of emotional intelligence, they tend to have troubles connecting with their colleagues, direct reports, and upper management. Part of the reason behind this is that they are unable to recognize the needs of others, and don’t pick up on social cues to notice others’ concerns. They can be competitive, and when conflict arises, quickly let go or sever relationships to avoid the frustration. Because they have an extremely limited number of connections, when they need help, they have very few people they can lean into, which leads to isolation.

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”

– H. E. Luccock, Professor

If you are struggling with building bonds with others, there are practices you can begin to help you improve your skills. On the other hand, you may be quite adept at connecting with others — if so, well done! But there’s always room for improvement. These same practices can strengthen and deepen those relationships.

Here are a few things to try:

  • Conduct a status report on your current friendships and connections. If you were to rate the quality of your relationships on a scale from 0 to 10, how would you rank your current friendships? Do you feel known and understood? Do they? And how about quantity? We’re not talking about having thousands of superficial interactions, but about increasing the number of connections upon which you can trust and rely. Maybe it’s time to make a new friend or two.
  • Note how your current relationships impact your success, both personally and professionally. Who is a major contributor to your achievements? Who do you turn to when you need help? Who reaches out to you for support? Take a moment to reflect on the impacts these individuals have on your accomplishments.
  • Reach out to those you are closest to and ask for feedback. Ask your besties what they would name as your strengths. Take some time to celebrate those. Then ask what behaviors hinder your effectiveness at building deeper relationships. Listen and take note of what they share with you.
  • Schedule time each week to meet with others, both to make new connections and strengthen current relationships. Even if you’re introverted, face-to-face time is best in developing better social skills. However, that may not be possible, so see if you can set up a virtual meeting at the least.
  • Notice what your friends and colleagues are going through. Can you tell when your personal friends and professional colleagues are experiencing stress or overwhelm? When is the last time you checked in with them — beyond the superficial “How are ya?”? Take the time to find out. Reach out with a phone call or text. Offer to help and support them. If you’re not sure what they need, try asking them directly.
  • Find someone you respect and trust and ask for support. It is not weak to lean into others. When we ask for help, it makes friends and colleagues feel appreciated and valued. It creates a safe environment for them, in turn, to ask for your help when needed. And, it provides us fresh with insights and perspectives as we work toward solutions…together.
  • Lighten your load. If you feel you have too much on your plate to spend time building bonds, consider taking a few things off that plate. Delegate where you can to carve out more time for connecting. Admit you have too much going on. Grab a trusted friend or colleague who can help you prioritize.
  • Seek out ways to connect with others, professionally and personally. Join the local Chamber of Commerce and attend the monthly meetings. Sign up for an industry-related workshop or conference. Join a social club or group who share your interests. Accept that invitation to meet for lunch. Jump on the optional Zoom call.
  • Become an excellent listener. More often than not, our inability to fully tune into others limits our ability to connect deeply. Put down your phone when someone is talking to you. Listen for the emotions they are conveying behind their words. Confirm that what you’re hearing is really what they’re trying to express. Here’s a simple test to measure your listening ability: note who is doing most of the talking in your conversations…you or them? If it’s you, a simple way to shift this is to ask more open-ended questions, and truly listen to their responses.

Which of these practices will you start with? Pick one and, if possible, spend 10 minutes in the morning thinking about how you might incorporate it into your day. Journal about it, and set some intentions. Who will you try this with? When? How? Where? What benefit will you glean if you do? As with any new habit, these practices may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first. That’s OK. If you get discouraged, remind yourself that building bonds with others is worth the effort, and your skills can grow.

Sure, buy the flowers, the chocolates, and the candy during this season of love. But if you want lasting, meaningful results, consider adding the gift of building bonds. What better way to express your affection this Valentine’s Day?

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”

– Jane Howard

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