I’m talking with leaders these days about how best to approach people. It’s a mystery for some why they can work effectively, almost effortlessly, with certain members of their team but feel misaligned with others. It’s tempting when this happens to say: “it’s them, not me” and to just shrug it off as having different personalities or styles. Unfortunately, OD research shows that, within a team, it’s natural for a leader to have an in-group and out-group. Conscious leaders want to overcome their bias toward and against people and they want to have healthy and productive relationships with everyone.
Research by Dutton and Heaphy (2003) investigated positive work relationships and discovered that high quality connections have important effects at work. Not only do they ensure a better exchange of information and resources, but they help people to positively identify with work, and they allow for honest conversations that can help us grow and learn together. What are high-quality connections? They are a subjective experience! You know that you are experiencing a high-quality connection when you feel relaxed, vital and alive. If you could see your brain patterns, you would detect a resonance of neural engrams between you.
A high-quality connection means that there is room between you for including emotions – even strong ones- in the conversation, for sorting out misunderstandings and for generating new agreements and being flexible as things change.
How do leaders create these high-quality connections? I like to use the metaphor of Goldilocks. I was thinking of the children’s tale where she was looking for what was “just right”. (This is too hot, this is too cold, this is just right, said Goldilocks, trying the bears’ porridge bowls). I’ve since learned that the Goldilocks Zone is what planetary scientists call the “habitable zone”– the range of distance with the right conditions to sustain life forms.
Asking leaders to find the Goldilocks Zone is a way of saying – pay attention to the environment and especially how you are impacting it.
Use your senses to read clues as to whether you are being “too hot” (too aggressive, too dominant, too much) or you are being “too cold” (too distant, too aloof, too passive). Use words and actions to show you are flexible – move away, move toward, stop talking, say more – keep testing till you are “just right” to be effective.
Finding the Goldilocks Zone is not just about finding the ideal energetic space when you are physically in the same space. When you are meeting someone virtually – with video or just in audio – you can and should be conscious of signals around how “deep” they want to go in your conversation. Asking questions like, “Would you like to say more?” or “You sound uncomfortable so perhaps we will leave this topic – yes?”
Take small risks to improve the just-rightness and to find the Goldilocks Zone, where a high-quality connection is possible.
Finding it hard to read the conditions? Take your lead from the other person (or the group) and mirror the degree of connection that works for them. At least until you ask directly what would serve them best. Ask open questions: “How can we work better together?” “What do you need from me right now?” or, especially from a leader, “How can I communicate with you better?” are a start.
Along with the Goldilocks Zone I remind leaders of the Platinum Rule which outranks the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have done unto you) …it is “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” Or treat others as they want to be treated.