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Why a Personal Touch Pays Off In the Workplace Getting to know your employees and team members on a more personal level spells benefits for all involved.

By Karen Brown

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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If your entrepreneurial journey has led to the creation of an actual company with actual employees, it's important that you be able to connect with them on a personal and professional level. From entry-level workers to the highest-ranked team members, there's a way to do it that achieves maximum benefit for everyone.

Professional (sometimes called "corporate") intimacy describes the process of letting the people with whom you work closely to get to know "the real you" and vice versa. It can be applied to all your work relationships, whether it's your team members, their direct reports or your peers — no one is left out. It can also be the key to a truckload of benefits: greater team performance, more effective senior leadership, boosts in individual and team productivity, a more trusting work atmosphere with less defensiveness, enhanced creativity and improved communication.

I've been personally involved with many companies trying to make that transformation. I knew a senior leader who was very good at their job but was closed off from sharing anything about themselves. This came to light in team-building work and retreats and then subsequently in ongoing meetings with tangential team members. The CEO also experienced a behavioral "pulling back" by this leader during emotionally intense work, such as incidents where significant financial stakes were in play.

I noticed it as a coach working with other senior leadership team members and wondered why this leader operated this way. I implored the CEO and other senior leadership team members to ask this leader questions that would lead to opening up. It was necessary to look below the surface of the behavior (pulling back) to understand how they learned to operate this way, to uproot it and, ultimately, change it.

Related: Make Your Team Building Fun — and Productive — With a Business Take on 'Speed Dating'

What made this possible was leaning into this particular leader with the safe inquiry. One of the questions posed to the senior leader was, "I noticed a pulling back when XYZ happened. Where does that originate?"

It turns out one of this leader's parents was shown the door after 30 years of service to a company where they felt like they always put forth maximum effort and opened up to co-workers. This leader saw his father struggle emotionally and financially, creating instability and insecurity, thus equating in his mind that staying "closed" meant safety and financial security.

When you know what is important to team members and what drives them at a personal level, it's possible to explain behaviors and help them transform. It's like knowing their core values but on an expanded basis. Conversely, what are some things that, when they aren't provided, will cause team members to shut down, pull back, or disengage - or even cause them to consider leaving the company?

When all team members feel safe to open up and show their true selves, they subconsciously realize they can count on each other, no matter what work situation the team encounters.

How far should professional intimacy go? Can a line be crossed when trying to establish this intimacy? It's certainly possible that a team member perceives the personal approach as being a bit too intrusive. The ideal method is to use the doorway of how they show up at and through their work. Along the way of sharing, they should be invited to share familial facts, aspirations, dreams, hopes, fears, triggers and beliefs. Most people are comfortable with this level of sharing and will not interpret it as being out of bounds.

Related: 10 Ways to Make Your Employees 10x More Productive

We do an exercise with senior leadership teams called "four questions, four minutes." It's life-changing because whenever we take a team through it, every leader says it allowed them to learn things about their peers they never knew while encouraging them to do the same. Here are the questions (we encourage team members to ask additional questions as each one shares):

  1. Where are you from, and where did you grow up?
  2. Where are you in your family's birth order?
  3. What were you good at, or what did you like growing up?
  4. What is the biggest challenge you experienced growing up that created how you show up at work?

It's amazing how these simple four questions get leaders to open up, revealing who they are under their professional exteriors. On one leadership team, we found instances in which 60% of the leaders were from four-sibling families, and all held the same place in the birth order. Two of them never felt like they were accepted for who they were; they put on a "work persona," hiding their true selves from team members.

When you ask these questions or use the exercise, don't let a leader brush off the question, giving a surface-level answer. Also, as these questions are being asked, it's vital to incorporate what's known as Level-Three Listening. This type of listening is completely directed toward the other person but has a wider focus.

You hear more than just words. You're paying attention to what the speaker is saying but also picking up emotion while sensing signals from the speaker's body language. You're paying attention to what they truly mean, along with the underlying feelings or thoughts behind their words. You're listening to understand and accept, not judge or ridicule.

Lastly, ask increasingly deeper questions. When a leader shares their challenge that creates how they show up at work, ask, "What contributes to or feeds this?" or, "What softens or alleviates this?" Also, ask, "What can I/we do to show our acceptance and support of you?"

Keep their answers in mind as you meet and interact with them in both professional and casual settings. This reminds you of the person they are, almost in a pictorial context, which the mind uses to remember important things. It will also help you give them what they need and help them do the same for you.

Karen Brown

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Exponential Results

Karen Brown has over 20,000 hours of senior executive coaching experience. She has a B.S. in Applied Management from National American University, ICF Executive Leadership Coaching Certification, Master Practitioner of NLP and Behavioral Patterns from the Association for Integrative Psychology.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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