Managers: How well are you connecting?

Earlier this year, I received two wake-up calls.

First, I learned that a long-time colleague is a very accomplished saxophonist. I had no idea of his interest in music, despite numerous interactions over several years. I was completely clueless about something really important to this individual.

Then, I discovered a neighbor had given birth to twins prematurely. I hadn’t even known this gal was pregnant and was mortified to learn she and her husband had been spending every spare moment in the NICU for eight weeks, without any support from neighbors to help with dog-walking, errands, and cooking. In the winter, people often pull into their garages at the end of the business day and don’t emerge except to shovel snow from sidewalks or get the mail. Unless you make an effort, it’s possible to go from October to April without a neighborly conversation (as in this case).

These two incidents got me thinking. I consider myself a connected person, who is interested in the “whole individual,” not just the work a person produces. I care about people’s well-being. I want to hear about the aging parent dilemmas. Children’s activities. The upcoming triathlon. The oil painting hobby.

Some employees openly volunteer personal information like this. Others hold it tightly, so you’d never know unless you asked the right questions on a day they feel like sharing.

I think we get lulled into a false sense of community, because we have email, 351 Facebook friends, 2,542 Twitter followers, and 363 LinkedIn connections. And Pinterest and Google+.

Face it. At best, this is pseudo-community. People often edit what they share electronically and in the office. For example, my Facebook posts err on the comic side, when my demeanor tends to be more serious. In a work setting, I share good news and fun anecdotes and try to skip “downer” topics.

Pseudo-connecting takes time away from the type of sharing that happens when you go for a walk with a neighbor, take an employee out to lunch, or pick up the phone for a catch-up conversation with an aging relative. On a regular basis.

Who can you reach out to today? What conversation starters do you use to learn more about the people around you?

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