Why are relationships so important? Recently, I have noticed the importance of building relationships in my feeling of success and satisfaction. I can go to an event, association dinner, neighborhood get-together, and if I leave at the end having connected with one or two new people, I feel good about having attended.
But, if the event produces no new contacts and no sense of connecting with old acquaintances, I grumble about a wasted evening. Stepping back from my own view, I’ve noticed the same reaction in others. Building and maintaining relationships energizes most folks and I wanted to find out why.
My research gave me both troubling and intriguing results. When I typed: “relationships + business” into a web search engine, I found that most sources discussing work relationships dealt with the need to fix broken bonds. These search results pointed at various sites that highlighted ways to deal with difficult people‚ deal with differences‚ or manage conflict.
To the casual reader, it would look like relationships in the work setting needed more fixing than growing. I then switched to searching for “relationships + psychology‚” and “relationships + social psychology‚” and hit more of what I was really looking for: why do we need to connect with people and what are the fundamentals of building good interpersonal relationships.
One article (cited below) put it nicely: “Psychologists find that human beings have a fundamental need for inclusion in group life and for close relationships.”
So how do we do it? Various factors are referenced when authors describe relationship building. The most frequent include open communication, mutual trust and demonstration of affection. Most importantly, the transition from acquaintance to friend mostly occurs when two people work on responding to each others needs rather than pursuing “what’s in it for me?”
Now this would all seem fairly obvious but for me it hints at why we have such difficulty building positive relationships in the work setting. Most of our traditional work cultures are built on a competitive point of view—I win, you loose. We see this most obviously when looking at business goals based on beating the competition in the market. And I feel that this win-lose competitive spirit seeps into internal relationships as well, since budget restrictions mean if I get funded, you don’t.
I have no real answers to this dilemma, just ruminations and perhaps a few warnings:
· Highly competitive environments can be very destructive to relationships.
· Since humans we are social creatures, whose health and happiness requires positive relationships, think about the long-term effects of working in environments that destroy trust and affection.
Perhaps this is one more reason why workplaces feel so toxic these days.
A Newsletter By: Alice Waagen