Dysfunctionally Connected Workplaces – 3 Ways to Build Trust and Human Connection

Click to Download the Full Infographic

Click to Download the Full Infographic

Never in history have we been so technologically connected to each other in the workplace. Email, instant message, text message, and social media have enabled us to be in constant and immediate communication with each other. Yet record numbers of people are disengaged on the job and distrust their organizations, senior leaders, and coworkers.

We are dysfunctionally connected.

Based on research from the Pew Research Center and The Ken Blanchard Companies, 81% of employees say their leaders don’t listen well and 82% feel they don’t receive helpful feedback. Only 34% say they meet with their boss weekly and 28% never or rarely discuss future goals and tasks even though 70% wish they did. If that wasn’t depressing enough, consider that 64% of employees say they want to talk to their boss about problems they’re having with colleagues but only 8% say they actually do.

We are dysfunctionally connected.

“The typical workplace is at risk of becoming dysfunctionally connected,” says Ken Blanchard, author of more than 55 business books and world-renowned leadership expert. “People crave a deeper human connection at work. They need to feel a more personal and authentic connection with their managers and their peers that goes beyond what technology can provide.”

Creating trust and human connection starts with conversation. We have to detach from technology and actually speak to each other…you know…the old-school way of establishing a relationship. Demonstrating care and concern for others—being connected—is one of the four elements of a trusting relationship. It’s a critical requirement for any successful relationship in the workplace. Here’s three ways to build trust and true relational connection:

1. Have a people focus – People are more important than things. Don’t get so wrapped up in the busyness of your job that you neglect to build authentic relationships with others. Take interest in the lives of your colleagues and appreciate the diversity that everyone brings to the organization. Ask people what they did over the weekend, how their kids are doing, or what hobbies they enjoy. And here’s a novel idea – instead of sending a colleague an IM, get out of your chair, walk down the hall, and actually have a discussion!

2. Improve your communication – I love the line from the movie Cool Hand Luke when the prison warden says to Paul Newman’s character, Luke, “What we’ve got here, is failure to communicate.” That could be the motto for today’s workplace. You can build trust and connection by sharing information about yourself, and if you’re a leader, about the organization. Examine the frequency and ways in which you communicate and make adjustments if needed, particularly when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. Most importantly, listen. Simply taking the time to listen to people and truly empathizing with their concerns is one of the most powerful trust-building behaviors you can employ.

3. Recognize people’s efforts – Whenever I conduct training workshops I ask participants to raise their hands if they receive too much praise and recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand. The truth is that most people are starved for genuine appreciation for the work they do and a simple word of “thanks” or “attaboy” go a long way toward building trust and commitment. Learn how people like to be recognized and rewarded and find ways to catch them doing something right.

The leadership styles and practices of managers are key drivers of trust and engagement in the workplace. Last week, The Ken Blanchard Companies announced the release of The SLII® Experience, a new learning design for its flagship product SLII®, the world’s most taught leadership model. Learning to flex your leadership style to the needs of your followers, giving them what they need when they need it, will lead to high-trust relationships that foster the kind of connection and engagement that people crave in today’s workplaces.

13 Comments on “Dysfunctionally Connected Workplaces – 3 Ways to Build Trust and Human Connection

  1. Great piece, Randy. I’ve been struck too by the increasing levels of trust we see online (the sharing economy, more liberal use of online financial payments, dating sites), while at the same time declines in the workplace, as you point out.

    It is as unnecessary as it is harmful. I tend to blame the ideology of shareholder value maximization and behavioral finance as drivers, but of course it’s complex. Anyway, thanks for pointing this out. And excellent suggestions too.

    • Thanks for your comments Charlie. It is a complex issue but we can take some common sense steps to improve the level of trust and human connection in the workplace.


  2. Randy,
    More than ever I’m finding a need for “High Tech” and High Touch” with my team. Both are necessary with this age of communication. I tried something at the last round table discussion I lead with college students. I began with this statement. “Just like they did in the old west, put your guns on the table”. I asked them all put their phones in a pile in the middle of the table on silent before we started our conversation. Was very had for some. Including me! I was becoming a victim of the distractions I despise most.
    “High Touch” will always win out. All of us long to be touched in a significant way. That’s where trusting relationships are formed.

    • Great points Timothy! I love the “put your guns on the table” activity that you used. It’s a great way to put the emphasis on true person to person connection.

      Take care,


  3. Randy, As technology has enhanced our connectedness, this just shows us how important it is to not let go of basic principles for communication and leadership. We cannot advance beyond a foundation built on listening, engaging, respect, and trust. Unfortunate stats but they need to awaken us. Thanks. Jon

    • Thanks for your comments Jon. We have developed so much complex technology to make our lives better, yet we’re losing sight of the commonsense fundamentals of building authentic and deep relationships.

      As always, thanks for sharing your insights.


  4. Randy, love that your article highlights the importance of communication and it’s part of each of the 3 strategies. Makes me wonder how this problem is made even worse for leaders in a virtual environment. With global flattening, the face-to-face human contact suffers, and so too does trust, loyalty and engagement. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Dawn,

      Effective communication is vital for leading virtual teams. Trust, attentiveness, and communication are key areas of focus and it takes even more intentional effort on the part of leaders to establish authentic connections with their people.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion.


  5. Pingback: ROADMENDER Recommends | ROADMENDER

Leave a Reply