Partners, Leadership

The Strategic Value of Connective Competence

August 31, 2016

The Strategic Value of Connective Competence

“A smile relieves a heart that grieves…” – from Waiting on a Friend by the Rolling Stones

As I was standing in a long, slow line at the post office one very dreary morning last spring, I began giving myself a pep talk about appreciating the moment. As I turned around to look out the window at the pouring rain, my eyes connected with a man standing a few positions back in the line. We smiled at each other and he made a small joke about how great the May flowers would be with all of these April showers. We both laughed, and in that moment my mood was transformed from impatience to positivity.

We had just experienced what Barbara Fredrickson refers to as a “micro moment of connection.” In her book Love 2.0, Fredrickson describes these as “moments of warmth and connection that we share with another person.” Based on her research, she believes that these moments can reshape your life for the better. Fredrickson’s beliefs rest on the science of emotion, which documents that “positive emotions can set off upward spirals in your life, self-sustaining trajectories of growth that lift you up to become a better version of yourself.” 

Caring and competence

I have often heard it said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This statement brings together two important dimensions that most of us draw on when we evaluate those we look to for leadership or work with most closely. Often we ask ourselves, “How competent is this person?” Put another way, this means, “Do they know their stuff?” When I talk about these dimensions, the competence question is very familiar to most people, probably because it is unlikely that we would enthusiastically follow someone whom we thought incompetent. In fact, competence is seen as so important that I have sometimes heard managers say something along the lines of, “I don’t care if my people like me. I just want them to respect me.” When unpacked, the desire for respect included in this statement is usually related to wanting to be perceived as competent.

Of course, competence is critical for success, but it is only half of the equation. The second dimension, caring, isn’t always so immediately obvious. Caring is defined by two questions:

  1.  Does this person care about me as a person?, and
  2. When making decisions and taking actions, does this person have my best interests at heart?

When paired with competence, caring moves the bar from respect to trust. The importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated. A high-trust environment is necessary to strategically support the emerging competitive edge where high engagement meets agility, producing the capability for innovation and speed.

Of course, these dimensions aren’t mutually exclusive and the prize is developing the skills and behaviors to be perceived as both competent and caring. In their research recently published in Presence, Amy Cuddy and her colleagues made an interesting discovery related to the relationship between the two dimensions. They found that most people, especially in a professional context, believe that competence is the more important of the two dimensions.  Yet, it is actually caring (which they refer to as warmth or trustworthiness) that is the most important factor in how people evaluate us. While competence is highly valued, Cuddy found that it is evaluated only after trust is established.

Connective competence

All of this makes a strong case for the active, ongoing development of what I refer to as connective competence. And this gets us back to the potential power of intentionally creating micro-moments of connection. My micro-moment that rainy day in the line at the post office sprang from a chance encounter. Imagine what can happen when we become more intentional about creating micro-moments of connection in our organizations and in our lives. I deeply believe that small things can make a big difference, and in the case of micro-moments of connection, they are too strategically important to leave to chance.

I am interested in your thoughts! Please respond to this post and share your strategies for creating micro-moments of connection.

As always, Dr. J is in the house of leadership thinking small about big ideas.

Fredricka Joyner is a Senior Leadership and Organization Development Consultant at ADVISA, a management consultancy focused on helping leaders and businesses improve performance since 1986.

Originally posted on LinkedIn.