two men engaging in connection discussion

Do guys feel emotional connection?

Craig Browne

Do guys feel emotional connection? How’s that for a clickbait title?

But I didn’t make it up. Google offered it up to me in the list of other common searches in response to my typing “emotional connection” in the search bar.

As a “guy” (I assume they mean AMAB), the voice in my head immediately shouted “yeah, of course we do!” But as I thought for a moment, I found myself saying “oh, maybe we don’t — maybe I’d better click!”

What do you think? As much as I would love to discuss this, it’s not the focus of this article — so I will leave it to you and your friends to quarrel over (and I will postpone my personal response until the end).

What I actually want to talk about and what I was searching for, were some insights into what people say about how to create emotional connection within teams and workplaces.

Let’s start by answering a couple of questions:

Do we really need emotional connection in teams?

I think the majority thinking is definitely yes. We have the need for connecting with others built-in. It motivates us, drives behaviours and decisions, maintains group cohesion, helps us align, and influences our level of commitment (including employee retention).

In his Oxford Review article on the subject, David Wilkinson points to research showing:

“… emotions are central to our social functioning in groups and they are an integral part of helping group members address and deal with a range of issues and problems that occur whilst working in groups or teams.”

And on HBR, from Louis Carter:

“What catalyzes people is emotional connection—when they see how their work positively affects organizational outcomes and that it matters to their managers, colleagues, and the world. Emotional connection is a motivating sense of satisfaction and intellectual alignment that can only come from feeling appreciated and part of a shared and worthy purpose.”

What do we mean by emotional connection in teams?

If you bring up emotional connection outside of work, it will often focus on the subjective feelings, bonds and alignments between two people, especially in loving, intimate relationships.   

When we look at the team setting, one could therefore be forgiven for simply adapting the intimate relationship definition to — workplace-appropriate — personal sharing or real-life, friendship-like conversations. But as David Stevens of Farber Group suggests, there is much more to it than that:   

“When we talk about connection, people often misunderstand what it means to connect. Connection is not shooting the breeze or general ice-breaking banter. In many instances, it’s not even about asking how someone is or inquiring after their family. Emotional connection is a high-quality interaction, defined by trust, active listening, and a willingness to engage conflict.” 

I am particularly struck by three elements in that last sentence: trust; active listening; and the kicker — willingness to engage conflict. Such critical factors are often talked about for their impact on team performance and bottom-line effects, but perhaps not always as conditions for genuine emotional connection.

I really value the weight and purpose these factors bring to Stevens’ definition and their obvious desirability within a group. As change agents and organisational consultants know well: trust is foundational, active listening develops respect and understanding, and fostering constructive conflict is at the root of problem solving and innovation.

And to drive the point home with the words of Stephen R Covey referring to creation and achievement of team missions, visions and values,

“There must be emotional connection and there needs to be a process of communication, feedback, openness and participation in order to get that emotional connection.”

Creating emotional connection

So, how do we create emotional connection in team settings? Well, from my readings and conversations it seems that a typical list of the elements people say are necessary for emotional connection would look something like this:

  • show respect
  • be authentic
  • listen well
  • mutual disclosure
  • foster equal voice and contribution
  • look for alignment, common ground
  • create shared purpose

and now let’s add, engage conflict.

Now, even though I have been researching and documenting ways to apply CCS Cards to teamwork for over two decades, I only recently made the following discovery in relation to emotional connection.

Over the years we have gathered many anecdotes from communication experts and professionals on why they use CCS Cards in their sessions.

Here’s a few typical phrases:

  • “Will easily create an enjoyable, trusting and non-threatening atmosphere”
  • “Encourages diversity and non-judgement”
  • “Rapidly and naturally produces two-way, open, honest exchange”
  • “A great communication leveller to encourage equality of contribution”
  • “Makes it ‘safe’ to share thoughts that otherwise might not be mentioned”
  • “Promotes an environment of respect and appreciation”
  • “It enables you to achieve an outcome of shared understanding more quickly”

If you want to know more, you can listen to some experts talking about CCS Cards

While I recognise there may be a dose of confirmation bias present here, I find the similarities between these two lists quite revealing. We have regularly heard and shared these kinds of outcomes when talking about CCS Cards, but, up until recently, not under the umbrella of using CCS Cards to create emotional connection.

Maybe it’s always been about emotional connection, we just didn’t always call it that.

So, as it turns out, creating emotional connection within your groups and teams may be as straightforward as giving everyone a pack of CCS Cards and some well-framed topics.

PS: So, do I think guys feel emotional connection? Yes. But perhaps some guys may not necessarily choose to initiate it. They feel it. They have the emotional intelligence, but they just use it a little more sparingly than might be expected by others.

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Craig Browne

Craig is co-founder of CCS Corporation, co-developer of the CCS, a designer, educator, product developer and award-winning game maker.