How Well Should You Connect With Others at Work?

As a coach I’ve had a reoccurring interaction with managers that goes something like this:

Them: "...of course, as a leader, I can't afford to get too close to my direct-reports."
Me: "Really? Why not?"
Them: "Well, I'm in the position to hire & fire and I don't want our friendship to cloud my judgement. I mean, I need to be able to do my job, right?"

Sound familiar? Ever thought something similar?

I certainly have.
And it makes a great deal of sense in as much as having a felt connection with someone certainly can make it harder to let them go if that’s the task at hand.

No one wants to hurt their friends.

So yes, the less of a relationship, of a connection, of caring we feel towards those folk we supervise the ‘easier’ it is to fire them, to sanction them, or apply any other corrective measure that makes sense within an organizational setting.

And to be clear, I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t dislike, even dread, the task of letting someone go. It’s a very uncomfortable thing for most of us to do, and for good reasons.

So, minimize the actual relationship and the task becomes somewhat easier. True.

Have you ever wondered what else is made easier by that lack of connection with those we work with?

It’s all bad…

Either Disconnect...

All sorts of things are made easier by us not having a genuinely caring relationship with those we spend hours and hours every week.

Callousness is made easier, as is neglect, indifference, disdain, and very much that whole list of behaviors keeping your HR people up nights.

Miscommunication is made far easier, as are those toxic forms of competition, conflict, and aggression that undermine everything you are coming together to create in the first place.

And, with a lack of a caring connection, exploitation is not so much made easier, it’s made possible.

What does a lack of genuine relationship make harder?

Everything good is harder…

Or Catalyze

Cooperation and collaboration are made infinitely harder through us not actually caring about those we are tasked to work with.

Generative conflict is more likely to feed politicking and tribalism at work when we don’t truly know the humanity of our colleagues—and worst still is when we don’t even care to know.

Conflicting well—the foundation of any high-performing team—is made harder in direct proportion to the lack of (hold on, I’m going to say it), of… intimacy with our team members. Under those conditions, conflict becomes entrenched—festering and compounding with every consequent interaction that fails to resolve into something more useful.

Not the physical kind—that’s a different topic for another time.

No, I mean intimacy in the broader sense.
Check out these similes: “closeness, togetherness, affinity, rapport, attachment, familiarity, friendliness, friendship, amity, affection, warmth, confidence.”

That’s intimacy.

Lack intimacy in your connections with others and they feel less seen, less understood, less appreciated and so, less loyal.

You’ll have more misunderstandings, less productivity—theirs and yours—and create the conditions for increasing turnover and its accompanying evil: loss of experience and institutional knowledge.

So, Choose

Yes, less closeness with your staff makes it easier to fire them should that moment arrive.

It also makes it easier to mistreat them should that impulse arise.

And increasing closeness makes everything good more possible—working together in an environment of trust to enjoy the ride while doing great things.

Got a preference?

Want a healthier business and happier life? Check out The Sticking Point my weekly email aimed at executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders of every stripe.