Is there a relationship crisis?

Real bonds are created through quality interactions that are meaningful

In 2011, I sat on a panel discussion at Southern New Hampshire University about the future of organizations, held up an iPad and suggested that this “thing” was going to replace institutions. I was very optimistic about this, as I tend to be. I didn’t take into consideration our natural tendency to exploit technologies and innovations, which can cause trouble until regulation and clear minds prevail. Looking back, that’s what our institutions are for.

Around the same time, I gave a presentation at a Washington technology conference. I discussed the networking behaviors were going to release relational energy that would also have positive effect.

One person raised their hand and suggested that social media was going to cause all kinds of problems with our children and our relationships. I told the audience that social media was going to profoundly impact our lives, whether we wanted it or not. At the time, I remained optimistic. Over 20 years later, I look back and see that I was right about it being a replacement for our institutions but did not see the negative side effects. Sometimes I have to stop being so optimistic.

In my field of organizational development, there is a big emphasis placed on being connected with people. I still truly believe that connection is critically important, but I think the quality of relational connections determines its value. Therefore, it’s not the frequency of the connection but the quality of it.

Is it more valuable for me to meet with my employees each week and have shallow conversations about matters that affect them, or is it more valuable to have less frequent meetings that are honest deep dives into how we could be our best selves in the workplace? The true answer is that it depends on what each of us needs. However, not all of us have the capacity to meet everybody’s unique needs for connection and communication.

If we use social media as an analogy to organizational networks/relationships, we can take away many lessons. Facebook and Twitter (now called “X”) can be a blast for some of us, but I can’t help feeling just slightly depressed when I see that I wasn’t invited to a particular event, or that nobody liked my recent picture of my fly-fishing trip. How much information is too much information? Can I even consume it all, and what is the quality of that information?

When I think about the mental health crisis that we are in, both in our personal lives and in our organizations, I can’t help thinking that we’re not doing our relational connections correctly. I tend to think that something has shifted in the way we relate that makes the popular belief that more time spent on connections and relationships might not always be optimal for ourselves or our organizations.

There are some people in my professionaland personal life that have an expectation of connection time with me. I do my best to make that quality time. There are other people in my life that won’t return a text for two weeks, and while that annoys me slightly, I also totally get that they may be overwhelmed with how they want to connect. Who am I to invade their life with text attacks and expect a five-minute turnaround time? Who am I to convene my employees each week and force them to connect with me when it’s unnecessary or not the right time?

My point is this: We may be trying too hard to find our own value through relational connections, and we may have entered a new cycle of connection endorphins that overload us and stress us out, both online and in the organization.

As leaders, our connections with the people we work with must be authentic, honest and meet the needs for their success. However, we must be mindful of what those needs are. The best leaders don’t force their message on people, or force them to have a relationship with them. Relationships and bonds are created through quality interactions that are meaningful.

As human beings trying to cope in the crazy information realities we live in, I think we must reject the relational connections and the communication streams that are shallow, promotional and one sided. I am not suggesting that we don’t create and maintain networks; I just think you would be better off having 200 LinkedIn connections of quality rather than 3,000 that mean absolutely nothing.

Russ Ouellette is an executive coach and president of Sojourn Partners in Manchester.

Categories: Business Advice, Workplace Advice