In a workforce with diverse cultures, lifestyles and ages, there can be a tendency for invisible barriers to separate groups of people from one another, or a single person from the group. Relationships form around personal connections. Rarely do relationships form because you only talk about the work project. Two individuals with children at the same school or who like the same sports team, for example, have something natural to talk about at the beginning of a meeting or in the hallway. These initial connections often lead to other common interests, beliefs or values that bring these individuals together. Because we think we know that person, we have a tendency to give them the benefit of the doubt—like we tend to give ourselves. When we believe that someone is like us, we tend to have higher trust in that person.
When your team is in near constant flux, or you find that a lot of people are not your age or have the same life experiences, it can be difficult to naturally find these common starting points to engage and get to know them on a personal basis. The first step is to have a genuine desire to want to get to know other people, and a willingness to let them get to know you. A recognition of this personal barrier is significant. Only if you are truly willing to make the effort, and do so, will these trusting relationships form.
The most common approach, probably because it is most comfortable approach, to building bridges is asking someone else about themselves. What kind of music do you like? Where do you live? Do you have a family? However, this approach puts the other person in the spotlight. If this is early in a relationship with you, and especially if they are not sure about how you will respond to their answer, they will tend to be very hesitant, thus probably leaving the wrong impression.
It’s better to be the role model by first sharing something simple about yourself and then working to build deeper connections from that introduction. Given the wide variety of options, is likely that your interests in music or movies, are not shared by everyone—or even by anyone for that matter. Therefore, we need to expand and deepen what we share to find that connection.
“I like Johnny Cash”.
This interest will likely resonate with very few people. However, if I work to explain why I have the interest, then we start to make connections.
“I like Johnny Cash music because it reminds me of my childhood driving with my dad. He always listened to old-time country music from his twenties.”
While they might not be interested in Johnny Cash, they might be interested in knowing about my relationship with my dad or where I was driving. If you take a risk and offer something a little more in-depth, they will likely reciprocate, maybe to the level you shared, maybe a little less, maybe more.
There are so many interests and life situations (upbringing, family structures, religions, culture and language) that it is sometimes difficult to relate on the surface. There are a limited number of emotions. If we are willing to share how the interests and the life situations make us feel, we are much more likely to make a connection with someone we think might not be like us at all.
If this article has you feeling nostalgic, here’s a little Johnny Cash for you.