The one thing we most want — from our work, from our relationships, and from our lives — is getting harder and harder to get. The solution is right in front of your eyes.
Humanistic Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, said feeling cared about, accepted and respected is necessary before we can realize our full potential of consciousness and creativity. We long to be heard, be understood, and to feel significant. We must be seen by others before we can know ourselves.
Maslow didn’t foresee how the denial of making meaningful connections at work—the place we spend most of our time—would hinder the possibility of self-actualization. Creating and sustaining these connections at home is difficult. Work presents an even greater challenge.
With eyes glued to screens and attention spans down to 8 seconds, we don’t see each other. We barely know each other much less accept each other for the unique, amazing beings we are. There is no time for bonding, no allowance for vulnerability, and little tolerance for conversations that go beneath the surface to look at what is missing.
Engagement is misinterpreted
Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Engagement is necessary for people to continually and willfully give their best efforts to an organization over time. Engagement is also scarce – Gallup survey results demonstrate that engagement levels have remained static for years, at around 30 percent, and 13 percent globally.
Peter Drucker said, “Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance.”
Solutions to the lack of engagement focus is on what to give people to make them happy. Leaders focus on how work is designed to be challenging and fun, what benefits to provide, and how flexible hours can be. They benevolently “empower” others. Employees may enjoy their surroundings, free time, and interesting tasks, but there is still one thing that can kill or strengthen their desire to give their best in return.
No matter how many things you do to make people happy, there is only one thing that works for everyone. Not giving people this one thing is the quickest way to kill their joy.
In the same article that defines engagement, Gallup claims that the most significant reason people are indifferent, stressed and miserable at work is because of the lack of meaningful conversations with their managers. They convene for obligatory contact. Some conversations inspire hope for the future, but then these same leaders make short-term decisions that destroy this hope.
Gallup only looked at the frequency of contact and the content of the communications that might increase engagement. Their study hinted at the importance of creating a deeper connection when they found that employees want their managers to be more open and approachable but they did not define what having a deeper connection meant or how it was achieved.
We all seek the freedom to be who we are in the company of others. This can’t be done with someone who is trying to fix you or make you feel empowered. Leaders talk about engagement but then focus on performance and results. This hinders engagement, creating what journalist Johan Hari calls parodies of connection where the humanity in the employee is invisible. The increasing sense of betrayal and indignity makes future attempts at connecting even harder.
The energy of real engagement
Being with people in a way that they enjoy the time together with you, they want to continue the relationship, and they want to give their best to achieving their goals as a result of the connection is based on one action – being totally and positively engaged in conversations. The energy exchange with you inspires them to passionately produce amazing results.
Intrinsic engagement requires leaders uplift the quality of their conversations.
As the mirror neurons sync with the emotions and intentions of the socially dominant person in a conversation (the leader or coach), the other person either opens up or shuts down. The person must feel trust, acceptance, and valued to fully engage and be open to growing. If the brain detects even a faint likelihood of injury from an unsafe or contrived conversation, it sends up the bullet-proof walls. The person then defends or retreats. Connection is lost.
Firing up a new source of power
The Latin translation for being alive is “being among men.” The joy we feel when we feel accepted and honored fills us with energy and a sense of significance. You don’t empower people by assigning them new tasks and decision-making authority. The sense of power comes from within, when people feel seen, cared about, and respected.
Leaders can be trained to embody curiosity, compassion, and respect so that conversations are meaningful and profound. These leaders create alive and engaged workplaces producing extraordinary results.
Start now. Consciously choosing to open yourself to another human requires courage and perseverance based on purpose. Lots of practice and good training will help. The next person you see, look them in the eye. Sense their desires and pain, seek to discover their hopes and fears, and feel their inherent goodness.
Let’s give each other the one thing we want more than anything else—to be seen. Then let’s have a new conversation about what engagement and empowerment really means.
My hope is that the current model of leadership where engagement and empowerment focuses on doing something for others evolves into a new model that is more soulful, meaningful, and productive. In this model, a personal sense of power is sparked from within through frequent, connected conversations.
When ideas flow because there is trust, empathy, mutual respect, and fun, companies stay robust and successful. The quality, not just frequency and content of our conversations, is the one thing that can change everything.
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Want to read more about having meaningful, profound conversations? Check out my book, The Discomfort Zone. For more information on training in emotional intelligence and advanced coaching skills, contact me by email or call 1-602-954-9030.