How would you describe your work culture? Do you feel welcome and that you belong? Or do you feel isolated?
Work is just one place where you spend a lot of time. Do you feel you have strong connections in other areas of your life?
Brene Brown wrote, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
Our connection to other people is so important that it impacts our physical health. If you feel disconnected and that you don’t have a place to belong, you will get sick. But feeling that you have connections with others will help you to be healthy.
Alana Muller is the founder and CEO of Coffee Lunch Coffee where she trains people to build better professional relationships. She says that the need to connect is in our DNA.
As adults, many of us find that we move in much more limited circles than we did in our twenties. With work and family demands on our time, many of the connections we build are with people at work or in other professional contexts. To help us connect and belong, we do want to make those connections more valuable.
Alana admits that networking is hard work. “They don’t call it networking for nothing.” Networking takes a lot of time, and sometimes people can feel that they are wasting time that they could spend in a different way. But with our need to connect and feel like we belong, networking becomes a valuable way to make that happen.
Alana says that we have the opportunity to form community everywhere we go. If you jog around your neighborhood in the morning, you have the chance to create community by greeting all the other people who are out exercising, walking their kids to the bus stop, or walking their dog. If you go into a coffee shop on your way to work, you have the opportunity to greet and form community with the baristas and with the other customers that you might start seeing at the same time.
Just as those simple interactions allow us to form community and feel a sense of belonging, we can form strong communities with our coworkers and others in our profession. Alana explains that “we can make a small shift to think about every interaction as creating community.” Instead of being focused only on a deadline or to do list, take a moment to interact with those around you. This interaction could be as simple as walking over to discuss the project instead of sending an email.
As we make the effort to form community, Alana says, “we are deepening our own sense of belonging. It turns out that belonging feels really good.”
As Alana suggests, understanding the importance of connection is the first small change to make. But once you know that it is important and you’ve decided to improve your connections, start by making small changes. Think about specific ways that you can connect with other people, whether it’s through a smile or a specific question. Then start using it at work and in all the other places that you can network and build community. These are small changes, but that sense of belonging affects your physical health, mental health, and energy.