Opening the “Heart” in Workplace Relationships

heart at work

We seek self-expression through our work and for many people, work is meaningful and satisfying.  But let’s face it – most of us have to work to make money. And while meaning may be a moot point for the majority of working people – how we think about our work and how we relate to the people we work with – has a great deal to do with how we go about achieving results.

Many clients I work with think 10-12 hours engagement with a job is average. They believe that’s the norm if you factor in the amount of time you are available for work related contact, if not actively doing other types of tasks. No amount of productivity seems enough.

Overlay these long work hours with all of the demands and pressures including constant technological changes and chronic uncertainty about the future of work  and you have a formula for intense stress, isolation, and disengagement.

In the process it’s easy to overlook the critical role of human interaction and interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

In her book, It’s Always Personal, Anne Kreamer offers an example from Sigal Barsade, an expert on emotions within organizations from the Wharton School of Business, “People don’t come to work tabula rasa. Rather they have a prior life and work history that can influence their thoughts and behaviors on the job. Traditionally, organizational behavior has only examined things people could easily see or report. But I think we’ve missed an entire level of analysis, which is unconscious.

What is needed is the recognition that there is a place for ‘heart” in the day-to-day real business world. Any resistance to bringing “heart” into the workplace is founded on grains of thought deeply buried in our collective unconsciouss about how work should be structured.

So, while eyebrows may rise when the subject of “heart” (often expressed as “soft skills” or feelings) in the workplace comes up for discussion, there is also growing recognition for its value in creating new ways that people can relate to each other…while still keep an eye on the “bottom line.”

While the focus of work still needs to be the accomplishment of projects, tasks and meeting goals, we still have the need to connect and engage with others.

The major role of leadership is to tap into and connect human energy with the pursuit of organizational goals. To tap into human energy means to connect with aspects of one’s humanness: emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. Leaders who create organizational cultures that nurture and support this desire for personal meaning are more likely to have employees who feel connected to their work and colleagues.

Work is all about relationships. If you strip away all the jargon about work, it’s the coming together of people who are engaged, through the expressions of ideas and actions, pursuing a seemingly common goal. However you choose to look at the purpose and function of organizational life, the one constant aspect that determines the lifeblood of any organization are its people. It is ultimately how we relate to people that makes all the difference in whether or not our “hearts” find an expression within the context of our work. What we do at work is a direct reflection of who we are.

Opening the door to our hearts at work goes a long way in building workplace relationships. Relationships, whether of an intimate nature or within the workplace, give us the opportunity to plumb the depths of our individuality and act as road maps for the development of self-mastery.

All relationships are a process that require consistent and conscious attention. The singular most important dimension of relationship is the opportunity to learn something about others and ourselves. Relationships offer us our greatest opportunities for growth since they often trigger our deepest fears.

Changing the nature of relationships at work will require more than a new business strategy. While we admire the intellect, we must realize that the intellect is not the creative factor at work, or for that matter, in the universe. Rather, it is feeling that is creative. Of course, it is well to combine the intellect and feeling… to use both the head and the heart… for the intellect gives a definite form to the feeling. But unless the feeling is there, the intellect will merely have provided the empty mold.

Thanks for reading,

George Altman, Intentional Communication Consultants

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