Let me start with a story. Before my wife and I had our first child last May, we reconnected with some old friends. They had recently had twins after a very difficult pregnancy that their doctor described as one in ten thousand (and not in a good way).
I asked them for advice when it came to navigating a life change as major as having children, particularly under such stressful circumstances. Their response? “Be really, really good to each other. Just focus on loving each other, and everything else will be fine.”
Of course, these days, few would disagree that love should be a core component of a marriage. But does love have a place in business?
Many would say no. Business isn’t personal. It’s about streamlining operations and maximizing profit.
But I disagree. Behind every rational action, plan, and decision lie a collection of non-rational feelings that actually guide our behaviors. And I think love is the most important one. Why? Because love is a radical act. To love someone says you are willing to give generously and have the hard conversations that are necessary to keep building a relationship.
Over the course of what has been a very isolated year, those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs have connected more with our coworkers, even if virtually, than most other people in our lives. And during so much heightened stress and turmoil, we’ve had to support each other even more than usual.
“Good business,” in my opinion, is about investing deeply in people, not just profits. It means engaging from the heart, not just the head. Cooperatives, with their “people helping people” philosophy, intuitively understand this, just as they understand the power of personal connections and the importance of thriving communities.
Even if we accept the vital role that love plays in business, we all know love can be hard. It’s a lot messier than numbers on a balance sheet. So how do we build our “love skill set?” How do we meaningfully engage from the heart while navigating strategic plans and gross margins? Here are the five “from the heart” skills we are focused on at PixelSpoke on this year:
- Growing our emotional bank accounts with others. Just like a real bank account, you need to deposit more than you withdraw to stay healthy. Marriage expert John Gottman asserts that when we appreciate and authentically connect with our team and clients, we’re making deposits. When we turn away, we’re making a withdrawal. Barbara Frederickson, professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, suggests aiming for a 3:1 ratio of deposits to withdrawals. (Maybe this should be called the “emotional credit union account?” Sadly, we didn’t coin the term!)
- Taking time to listen and reflect. I like to think of this as Deep Listening, which revolves around listening for understanding rather than agreement. So often I find that when I see someone struggling, their most basic desire is just to be seen and heard fully by another person. I can offer more by staying in this space rather than jumping to solutions.
- Acknowledging emotions. Again, as much as we like to believe that we are rational creatures, particularly in a work context, the reality is that we bring our emotions to everything we do. Getting in touch with our own feelings and working to understand others’ feelings (instead of making assumptions) is key to a healthy team dynamic. I often consult this handy feelings list from the Center for Nonviolent Communication.
- Understanding needs. Needs and emotions are invariably tied up in one another, but figuring out what it is that we or other team members are needing, particularly in times of conflict, can help us work toward constructive next steps. Once the need has been identified, options for alternate solutions begin to surface. Here is a helpful list of needs from the same folks.
- Making positive requests. This one is beautiful in its simplicity. I want to work on asking for what it is that I do want, instead of focusing on what it is that I don’t want. It’s easy to say that you want someone to stop stressing you out. It’s difficult to ask if they would be willing to check in with you to see if it’s a good time for feedback before they deliver it. And it’s even harder to accept that they might say “no.” But in my experience, making demands does not lead us toward greater connection and stronger relationships.
If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that I’m going to screw up at some point this year. More likely at multiple points. That’s part of life. We often say or do things that are unskillful, dismissive, or inconsiderate. Without a healthy emotional bank account, and without the tools to meaningfully engage, we can cause suffering and damage that may have long-lasting implications for team morale.
Love doesn’t mean we do everything right. It just means that we’re committed to doing the hard work.