30/12/2013 10:00 GMT | Updated 28/02/2014 05:59 GMT

How to Build Authentic Connections at Work


I tried an experiment when I took to the stage to give a talk on "failing to relate authentically" at this year's TEDxBristol. After walking on boldly (or as boldly as my nerves would allow), I spent the first minute or so telling the audience about my various accomplishments. Then I stopped. I walked off, re-entered and started again.

I introduced myself once more. This time I mentioned some of my failings, fears and vulnerabilities.

At the end of the second introduction I asked the audience to raise their hands if they felt more connected to me after my second attempt. The majority of hands went up. I asked them to raise their hands again if they thought I was on some kind of smug, ego trip with the first. Again, nearly every one's hand shot into the air. You can watch it here on youtube if you want to see if it has the same impact on you.

The results from my little experiment didn't surprise me. When I edit who I am to only include the impressive bits I'm erecting a barrier and failing to let people see and know who I really am. As a result they are unlikely to feel connected to me.

But that is what so often happens in our personal lives and particularly in business. We can become so focused on protecting our image and putting our best foot forward, that we don't show up as our real self. We then fail to engage and connect with our colleagues or our clients.

Failing to relate authentically is a failure we need to take seriously. That is because authentic connections are key to so much in life: great leadership, good parenting, deep friendships, lasting love, successful companies, strong communities and healthy societies.

If you look at the individuals or companies who are leading the way in our digital age - it is those who seek to engage with their audience or customers who are rising to the top. Increasingly, I believe, success will be determined by our ability to build authentic connections.

When over 1000 people were surveyed for my book, only 20 per cent said that they always respected their boss - which leaves quite a lot that don't. I asked what qualities they most wanted in a leader and the answers that came up again and again were integrity and honesty. These were closely followed by fairness, vision, humility and trustworthiness.

I believe the answer to being a great leader or work colleague is the same: to be authentic. That means daring to bare who we really are and laying down some of our defences.

When we fail to relate authentically it is because we are choosing to value protection over connection.

Over the last twenty years or so I've read hundreds of books, conducted research and watched those who are better at relating authentically than me.

I've noticed certain characteristics in those who build great connections:

• They're prepared to be vulnerable.

• They are comfortable in their own skin.

• They share their feelings, fears, challenges and hurts.

• They listen without getting defensive or attacking

• They allow others to be themselves.

• They invest time in others.

• They admit mistakes and apologise.

• They don't blame, shame or attack others.

• They take responsibility for their behaviour and reactions.

• They are present with the person in front of them.

• They don't put unrealistic expectations on themselves or others.

I don't think any of us would manage all of those things all of the time because none of us is perfect but I've found it a great vision to aspire to.

If you can be the most authentic version of yourself and allow others to be the same - yours will be a work place where people don't just survive but thrive.

TedXBristol 2013