Connection Before Content

I used to lead parenting workshops, and one of the key takeaway messages was, “Connect before you correct.”

I’m hearing echoes of that concept as people wrestle with how best to maintain relationships digitally over what is becoming a long time apart. As I continue to observe what great teams do in these strange days, they emphasize connection before content.

This approach comes easily to those who excel at relationship building. My friend and colleague Chad Littlefield is outstanding at modelling ways to build interpersonal connections. His facilitation style, tools and corporate personality all point in this direction.

For those who tend to be heavily productivity-focused, this advice is harder to heed. We certainly don’t need to prolong our time in front of a screen, do we? Let’s get on with the task at hand. (I confess to being a participant in a recent series of meetings and having this soundtrack playing loudly in my head!)

And therein lies the point. We know that we prefer to collaborate with those with whom we have a strong relationship. Connection is an accelerant to getting work done. The two are not at odds. Yet in these days when we are not bumping into people on the street or at the coffee maker, or walking to our cars together after an event, we need to build time into our meetings to nurture connection. Given the amplification of struggles with isolation and mental health right now, taking time to strengthen interpersonal bonds is all the more important.

I’m appreciating Rituals for Virtual Meetings by Kursat Ozenc and Glenn Fajardo as a practical new resource for deepening our digital connection toolkit. I also welcomed a recent reminder from Digby Scott that we should “build relationships before we need them.” As life in a pandemic reaches its one-year anniversary, we need to make sure our relational currency with people remains strong. Building it takes extra and more creative efforts when our go-to strategies (even the ones that worked 6-9 months ago) aren’t available to us.

I’m curious what’s working well for you in addressing connection before content right now. For me, it can be as simple as allowing time for it in agendas and asking generative questions. My favourite openers currently? “Name one thing you know a lot about,” and “What’s the most boring thing about you?” Guaranteed to put smiles on a few faces and lead to wiser decisions faster.

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