, The Illusion of Intimacy

The Illusion of Intimacy

September 6th, 2019 Posted by Leadership Coaching, Leadership Tools

I was giving a workshop on communication a few months ago and I shared that the only real way to build relationships was through face to face interactions. One of the participants absolutely stumped me when he vehemently disagreed and proclaimed that in his last role he worked from home and through email and social media formed some the best relationships of his life. I had to agree that the world is changing and that it is possible to form a relationship over the internet but part of me still questions the depth of any relationship without personal interaction. However, the research may not agree with me. In order to form relationships, it largely comes down to two things: proximity and repeated exposure. Whether this is in person or over social media it doesn’t seem to matter; relationships, attraction, and trust can be built of the internet. As an aside, repeated exposure to someone you don’t like doesn’t tend to improve the relationship; it tends to make it worse, especially when each person focuses on the differences between them. Research tells us that the best way to bring two people (or groups) together is through creating a subordinate goal that both have to come together to achieve, identify shared values, and ensuring the status of each person is equal. However, this can’t be coerced. This approach tends to work because it starts change the dynamic of ‘us and them’ to ‘us’.

If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace. ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

Being able to build relationships is important stuff for anyone interested in growing into a leadership role. Only today I was in a meeting with three other people. It was clear that two were socially skilled and the third was awkward and uncomfortable. He spent the whole time with his phone in his hand, fingering the screen, either answering or scrolling through emails. His eye contact was poor and fleeting and he left the meeting for a few moments to take a call. The discomfort of his colleagues was palpable. We can’t all be brilliant communicators and some of us find it more uncomfortable to be in the presence of others than others. However, it is possible to learn basic communication skills to get the best out of any interaction. So why is this so important for leaders? The answer is simply the higher you go in an organisation the more the type of problems you face are behavioural in nature. It’s dealing with others, it’s being able to challenge professionally and be challenged professionally. It’s about showing that you’re listening (really listening – highlighted as the most important skill for an executive, by the way!) and developing trust and influencing skills to achieve things through others.

More and more, social psychologists are expressing their concern about the growing lack of interpersonal skills our younger generations are demonstrating. The growing lack of empathy is high on their list of apprehensions. They explain it like this… If, as a child, I say something to another person in a face to face interaction that hurts their feelings, I get instant feedback from their facial expression that tells me that what I’ve said was hurtful. It’s through these interactions that I learn my words can hurt people. However, increasingly, if I send a text or social media message to someone (or to a group about someone!) I don’t get to experience their hurt and therefore don’t ever get an opportunity to learn these skills of which an important one is empathy.

When comes to being liked by others the research tells us that what we desire in others are the following traits (in the context of a project team):

  • Trustworthiness
  • Cooperativeness
  • Agreeableness
  • Intelligence
  • Humour

I agree that all of these are important traits; however, there are a couple I’d like to add that are important to leadership: conscientiousness and disagreeableness. This second one might seem to contradict a couple of the earlier traits and I guess it does. However, I don’t mean that it’s necessary to be disagreeable all the time; it’s important to get on with people but if there’s something that you disagree with, it’s important to raise it. As a leader, your job is not to have blind faith but to kick the tyres a little (again, not for the sake of kicking the tyres).

Trust, but verify ~ Ronald Reagan

So go forth and build relationships – be likable; the great thing about working with other people is there is always an opportunity to improve your interpersonal skills!

Less Yammer, less Slack, more talking!

The irony that I’m posting this on social media is not lost on me…


If you’d like to know more about how to build relationships and improve your communication skills, or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you become a better leader (of others or yourself!), or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.

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