The people with whom we share our time have an enormous impact on our experience of the world and of ourselves. Sometimes we have choice in who we have around us, and sometimes, like at work, we do not.

Social connection is a basic human need. Social support has been connected with many physical, psychology, and emotional benefits. On the flip side, studies have shown that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking or high blood pressure.

The most powerful measure of social support is the presence at least one intimate, confiding relationship. Cultivating our fundamental sense of connection is about giving presence and attention—hopefully in person—to those relationships.

And it is also about connecting with our natural world—with gratitude, generosity, and a sense of giving back to people and to the planet. Research shows that when we give of ourselves, not only are others helped, but own sense of well-being, positivity, and meaning are enhanced.

For leaders, attending first to an employee’s vital need for connection is a gateway to the most powerful and effective working relationships. Employee engagement studies consistently tie engagement to the simple idea of “attention from boss,” which relates to our basic human need to feel seen and heard.

A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them. (“Connect, Then Lead,” Harvard Business Review, July/August 2013)

In Practice

  • Laugh with others
  • Make time for people you love (or even like a lot)
  • Express admiration and affection freely
  • Take delight in the good fortune of others, and express it
  • Right-size conflict, preserve the relationship, not your ego

For Leaders

How well do you know your direct reports? Do you know what motivates them? What triggers them? Do you know how they like to receive feedback or what conditions they need to feel successful? Do you know what they care about outside of work?

If the answer to any of these questions is No, it’s time to make curiosity and listening a leadership priority.

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