How we can better connect at work

31 March 2022

Every person has the ability to build more connected, understanding, and empathetic workplaces that are inclusive and support positive experiences for all.

8 min read
8 min read
inclusive workplace

Learn about the past, present, and future of the U.S. workplace through the Connecting Generations article series! 

Connecting Generations is on a mission to spark connection, understanding, and empathy across generations in the workplace. This 3-part series will cover the evolution of work, disconnection in the workplace, and how we can foster positive experiences and strengthen workplace connection. 

Connected teams value different perspectives and make employees feel included, supported, and understood. 

Teams who know how to understand and synthesise multiple perspectives not only provide a better employee experience, they are also better at decision making, problem-solving, and performing overall. Cross-generational teams who are inclusive and know how to see, hear and value each other’s points of view are specifically known to have increased organisational performance, retention, and successful decisions. Seeing, hearing, and valuing different perspectives is an essential and impactful business skill. 

Workplace connection and Insights are similar... The role of Insights is to understand the world around us, connect businesses and consumers through innovation and communication, and set both up for success. To do that, we must uncover and understand different needs, preferences, and points of view. We then create value by synethesising what we learned and finding opportunities to meet the needs of both consumers and our companies/clients. 

Additionally, we know the importance of optimal sample sizes and representative samples. By hearing many ranging perspectives, we increase the validity and reliability of our work, which enables our clients to make better decisions. Seeing, hearing, and valuing different perspectives in leadership and collaboration is advantageous for the same reason. The more perspectives and approaches a team hears, the better they can problem-solve and create value. 

We have the power to create a more connected workplace! 

While workplace connection is best addressed at a systemic level, individuals can still make an impact. This article will introduce five of Connecting Generations’ favourite concepts and tools for building connection, understanding, and empathy! Try them out if you’d like! Remember, only you can determine what is helpful and worthwhile for you and your team. 

1.  Raising One’s Empathy Level 

Empathy is the “understanding of how others are feeling and being compassionate toward them.” Empathy gives us the power to relate to another person on an emotional level. By knowing how another person feels and why they feel that way, we gain important information that improves our abilities to navigate and honour our relationships. 

While some of us are naturally empathetic, others find it challenging to empathise with those who are different from them. Fortunately, there are evidence-based steps that one can take to raise their empathy levels

  1. Look for signs that another person is experiencing an emotion.

  2. Try taking their perspective and imagine how they might feel given their point-of-view and set of unique circumstances.

  3. Try to come up with a hypothesis for why the other person feels the way they do.

  4. If trust has been established, pose your hypothesis to the other person to see if there is mutual understanding.

  5. Give the other person an opportunity to share their need for change or support.


2.  Applying Cultural Relativism & Perspective Taking 

Cultural Relativism is a core principle of anthropology and is very helpful for understanding those of different backgrounds. Cultural Relativism “refers to not judging a culture to our own standards of what is right and wrong, strange or normal.” Instead, it suggests that viewing their perspectives and actions through their own cultural lens creates deeper understanding. 

One way we can apply Cultural Relativism to our professional lives is through taking and seeking the perspectives of others. We can pause before judging the beliefs, actions, and feelings of others and consider their perspective through their cultural context. Additionally, if trust is established, we can ask the other person questions to better understand their perspective and cultural context. 

Please read this Forbes article for more: Why Understanding Other Perspectives Is a Key Leadership Skill 

3.  Communicating Assertively & Nonviolently 

Assertive, peaceful communication enables one to share their “thoughts, feelings, & opinions in a way that makes [their] views & needs clearly understood by others without putting down [the other person’s] thoughts, feelings, & opinions.” Sometimes, well-meaning people unknowingly communicate in ways that dismiss and diminish another person’s worldview, causing them to feel disrespected, excluded, and discouraged to share in the future. 

One can communicate “nonviolently” by: 

  1. Sharing what they observed without judgment.

  2. Sharing how they feel about that observation.

  3. Sharing what they need or value.

  4. Working with the other person to find a solution that meets both of their needs. 

For more, please read this Assertive Communication pamphlet or this Nonviolent Communication instruction self-guide

4.  Considering Unmet Needs 

We perform our best when our physiological and psychological needs are met. According to the Harvard Business Review, the top needs that drive employee performance are renewal, value, focus, and purpose. A helpful and efficient way to address unmet needs is to empower employees to take steps to meet their own needs and give them the flexibility to do so. Leaders that listen to and support the needs of employees are those that set their teams and employees up for sustained success and virtuous cycles. 

It may also be beneficial to rethink one's views about struggling employees... Before drawing conclusions about someone’s abilities or performance, one could pause and consider if all their important needs are met. As we know from marketing and innovation, unmet needs are opportunities. 

Plus, as we learned in our first article, supporting employee needs and fostering positive experiences positively impact both the employee and the employer! Unfortunately, many don’t feel comfortable communicating their needs and challenges with their employers because their work culture lacks psychological safety... 

5.  Connecting Through Shared Feelings vs Specific Interests 

Many of the participants in our research (older and younger) mentioned that they found it difficult to connect and empathise with those of different generations because they lacked shared interests and experiences. This makes sense as many have been taught to connect with others through shared interests. While connecting over a specific interest is the path of least resistance for many… We can also connect through shared feelings about our interests and experiences. 

For example, imagine that someone who loves golf is working on a project with someone who loves guitar. One might think that these coworkers don’t share much in common from a hobby perspective… though when they dig deeper, it's a different story. By focusing on how their hobbies make them feel, they uncover that they both love golf and guitar for the same reasons: The challenge and the feeling they get when their hard work and practice pay off! Turns out the two had more in common than they originally thought. 

Don’t forget that connection, understanding, and empathy develop over time… 

It takes time to develop trust, to get to know the people that we work with, to feel secure in sharing our differing opinions, and to learn strategies that promote connection, understanding, and empathy. Fortunately, incremental progress over time is powerful. Through understanding and empathy, we all have the power to build more connected workplaces that are inclusive and support positive experiences for all… We just need take the first step! 

Thank you for reading the last article in our series for Research World! 

This series is brought to you by Connecting Generations, a research-driven initiative from Thoughtful Research and HauckEye with the mission of sparking connection, understanding, and empathy across generations in the workplace. Connecting Generations offers workshops to teams who want to foster positive work experiences and strengthen their connection. Please visit our website to learn more. 

This work features Connecting Generations’ research. In 2021, the team interviewed 29 marketing researchers and surveyed 1000 office workers to learn more about intergenerational disconnection and the workplace experience. We were proud to partner with Veridata Insights to field the survey portion of our study.

Erin Sowell
Researcher, Innovator, & Founder at Thoughtful Research