Updated: Mar 27
In a recent study by McKinsey & Co, 75% of workers said the most stressful part of their job was their immediate boss. And, from a study by Gallup, only 1 in 10 leaders demonstrate skills of a great manager like relationship-building, facilitating open dialogue and demonstrating transparency. Directly from McKinsey & Co:
"Relationships with management are the top factor in employees’ job satisfaction, which in turn is the second most important determinant of employees’ overall well-being."
In their study, only mental health was found to be more important for overall well-being. Wowza.
Stats aside, here's what I know for sure: leadership is about people skills, not technical skills. A great leader intentionally develops connection skills that leverage the strengths of the team. Brené Brown defines connection as:
"...the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship."
Hardly qualities that make you the most stressful part of someone's work day. But, how do you become a connected leader? To sharpen your connection skillset, check out these simple communication phrases that boost psychological safety, cultivate connection and build trust with your people. Consistent, small actions add up to remarkable results.
Three Simple Phrases Leaders Can Use to Build Connection with Individuals and Teams:
"What do you need out of this meeting?"
Phrase #1: this creates a safe space for the team and direct report to add to an agenda or communicate deeper socio-emotional needs than agenda items. Thing is, most transactional agenda items can be communicated via email (cue the applause!). Socio-emotional needs are more dynamic and require being present in the moment to best communicate (both Zoom and in-person will work). It makes your time together more valuable when you create space to learn what people are needing outside a script. Don't try to guess what your team is needing...ask directly.
*Connected leader communication hack: focus on "what" questions when it comes to facilitating meaningful conversation. They are open-ended and allow your direct report or team to answer in a way that gives more valuable insights to connect upon.
Simple example: "Do you have any questions?" becomes "What questions do you have?"
"What does support look like?"
Phrase #2: a great connector question for high stakes/high emotion moments or for kickstarting big projects, assignments and/or tasks. Key point: support is a feeling. Translating that feeling to words might take more than one meeting or one time asking the question. Decoding signals from the heart center of intelligence (where feelings live) to the head center of intelligence (where rationality lives) often takes more than one try. It might be easier for them to verbalize what it doesn't look like. Listen to all answers with openness and non-judgement. Like with needs, support is subjective. Don't try to guess what support looks like...ask directly.
"Did you get everything you needed out of this meeting?"
Phrase #3: this question is connection gold. Don't leave a meeting, individual or team, without asking it. It creates a safe space for people to get that burning statement or question off their chest that might not have fit perfectly on the agenda, that might have arisen as the meeting went on, or that they might have struggled to interject. From my personal experience as a leader, some of the most valuable connection points have come after I asked this question.
Key Takeaway for All Questions:
After asking, pause for at least 10 seconds. You have to give people space to reflect. Silence can feel awkward sometimes, but that vulnerability is where connection happens.
Empathy, connection and relationship skills are not just nice to have --they are strategic imperatives. Great leadership has many traits, but one non-negotiable is the ability to connect with your team and individual workers.
Did you find this information useful? Train your team or organization in these skills by booking the Connection at Work webinar.