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Written by: Stuart Knight


In 1996 I graduated from the school of business and economics at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. I was the second person on both sides of the family to ever graduate with a post secondary degree, with my older brother being the first. Damn him! My immigrant parents were quite proud and thought, “Finally, our children will have good paying jobs, and the good life that comes with it.” So, you can imagine how happy they were when I told them I had secured employment as a waiter making minimum wage and tips. For the record, this was before the time when an expected 25% gratuity was the recommended baseline for walking the plate of food from the kitchen to the table.

It wasn’t my plan to work at this restaurant for life, but when I thought about jumping all the way into my first corporate love affair, let’s just say I was “commitmentphobic”, which isn’t a word, but you get the point. Now, if you’ve served tables in the past, you know there is a pecking order between new hires and the veteran wait staff with respect to who gets the most lucrative sections of the restaurant. You have to earn your stripes in order to move up the shift list, which also applies to the shit list ironically, but that’s a story for another article. I didn’t mind, because the establishment I landed a job at was nestled next to a major professional sports arena, and within the heart of the financial district, which meant lots of customers!

Why am I telling you all of this? I’m telling you because I want to share a life lesson I learned quickly by slinging those beers, and unlimited bread and salad. That was a hint to my Canadian readers as to which restaurant I worked at. What I learned quickly is that the better you make people feel the more money you make. And since then, I’ve learned that applying that lesson to all aspects of life not only makes it easier to make money, but makes it easier to get more of anything that is important to you.

At first, I didn’t even know I was doing anything special. At the end of each shift when people asked how I did that night, they would look back with astonishment as I shared the amount I had made in tips. I assumed they had done just as well, but learned fast that this wasn’t the case. At first, I chalked it up to beginner's luck, but eventually realized that I was even eating the tips of servers who had been given bigger and better sections of the restaurant than myself. That’s when I started analyzing the way they approached their job compared to myself, and it didn’t take long to see what was happening. For them, it was about quantity in the number of tables they tried to turn over in the course of their shift. For me, it was about the qualitative experience I could create for each customer sitting in my section. The servers I worked with all fell into a traditional paradigm by thinking more tables meant more money. I, on the other hand, thought better table experiences meant better money. At the end of the day, all of us were able to establish the same food and drink experience for our customers, but I was unknowingly creating a human experience.

For example, if I learned a group of friends were celebrating someone’s birthday I’d ask everyone what they liked most about the birthday girl. If a bunch of corporate colleagues were out for lunch, I’d ask them what they were most looking forward to in business in the coming months. Heck, even if someone was dining alone, I’d sit down with them for a few minutes and ask them what the best part of their week had been thus far.

And the more people were given the chance to talk about the things they cared about, the more they felt interesting, intriguing, exciting, important and that their story was heard. Thirty years later I have learned that when you make people feel that way, the more likely it is that they will respect, admire, value and like you. The more often that happens, voila, bigger tips!

For you bigger tips might translate into greater sales, more clients or returning customers. For someone else, bigger tips might mean having a team that is willing to work harder, collaborate more often and trust each other deeply. Heck, it could simply translate into your children wanting to spend more time with you. Whatever it is, good things happen to those who make the effort to connect with others on a human level.

Unfortunately, this is a difficult concept for many organizations to accept as they are still stuck in the old paradigm of believing that personal relationships are taboo and should be kept out of the workplace. For that reason they focus on traditional “mind to mind” connections that touch on subjects such like the weather, the score of the hockey game or how a person’s weekend was. While those connections are fine, they pale in comparison to the heart to heart connections most are too afraid to have.

A heart to heart connection is one that happens when you ask people what the best part of their weekend was, how they feel about their mother in law or what the most important thing is on their “before they die” bucket list. It happens when you ask the questions few people consider, while at the same time showing a willingness to be vulnerable by sharing your own true feelings. A heart to heart connection happens when you create time and space for people by telling them in advance that you want to connect with them in a meaningful way. And when you make this effort, all other aspects of your relationship with that person will flourish.

A great deal of research has been conducted on the topic of building meaningful personal relationships in the workplace, and the results are staggering. So much so that I almost don’t know where to begin. For starters, when someone has a close relationship with just one colleague, they are on average twelve times more productive at their job. In fact, 58% of workers said they would turn down a higher paying job somewhere else if it meant they had to sacrifice the relationships they currently worked.

How about the organizations who say employee engagement is important? Well, those are just words on a website unless something is actively done to make your employees actually feel engaged. Research shows the number one factor that influences employee engagement is whether or not that person has close relationships at their place of work. And it turns out that companies who foster those relationships are on average 21% more profitable than their competition and experience 41% less absenteeism.

What’s most ironic is that many companies, and their respective leaders, are convinced they are creating these kinds of relationships, and yet this simply isn’t true. When asked, 80% of managers felt they connected well with their team, while 20% of their team members agreed with that statement. In the same vein, these managers encourage their colleagues to ask for help when they need it, which supports the fact that 90% of the help given in the workplace happens when someone explicitly asks for it. But do people ask for help from colleagues they aren’t close to, or would they be more concerned about how they may be judged?

Great organizations are slowly beginning to wake up and see the direct correlation between fostering meaningful relationships and how it impacts their bottom line. Sadly, many of them still think they can accomplish this goal by taking their team bowling once a year during the holiday season. Unfortunately, that’s never been how it works. Relationships take time, effort and most importantly, an intention to connect personally. They don’t magically happen on their own. They happen when people stop acting like robots, and tap into their tribal roots by remembering interpersonal connections are the very thing that got us through the last two million years!

I believe we are facing a human connection crisis on planet earth and the best way to solve it is by inspiring companies and organizations to step up to the plate and take action.

Research shows that our lack of meaningful connection is having a profound impact on both our physical and mental health, so it’s not just about making more money, but also about saving the lives of the people making that money.

As much as I have enjoyed teaching audiences the importance of building meaningful human relationships in the workplace during my keynote presentations, I feel compelled to go further by offering tangible resources people can use to get there. These tools can be used at the beginning of a team meeting, during the cocktail reception at a big conference, or simply around the dinner table with your family. They spark the kinds of conversations people so desperately yearn for, while helping organizations walk the talk of fulfilling the obligations they say they care about in their mission statement.

It’s no longer a question of whether this stuff is real, but rather a question of what you choose to do with this truth. If what you have read resonates with you, I encourage you to click the link below and start taking advantage of these free resources today. It’s there where you will find tools that will help you build stronger bonds with the people in both your professional and personal life. And if you want help communicating the benefits of creating meaningful human relationships with a fun and engaging keynote at an upcoming meeting, drop me a line!

Until then remember, there are many people in your life who would light up if you made the effort to connect with them in a meaningful way. Acknowledging that gives you a super power to slowly change the world. How cool is that?

Much love!


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