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  • Vanessa Barajas, MPH

Building Relationships by Sharing Stories

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

Written by Vanessa Barajas, Program Coordinator at Work2Live

Did you know sharing personal stories and getting to know someone more intimately at work is a great way of establishing trust? It can lead to transparency and better communication among teams. When it comes to building trust with clients/customers and within teams, warmth is a key element to success. The idea of “warmth” is often misperceived though. Warmth isn’t about smiling more or being agreeable. Rather, projecting warmth means that you’re able to show someone that you share their goals or values. To connect on a human level, willingness to express emotion and vulnerability are paramount.

Share a bit of yourself so your clients and teammates see you as a real person, not just someone who fills a role. People may admire your intellect, appreciate your experience and rely on your expertise; however, they will trust you when they connect to your humanity, the part of you that lies beyond your professional skills. Yes, it can be awkward and scary to share something personal, so why take the risk? For the opportunity to forge a bond of trust and a deep, authentic connection.

By showing your vulnerability, you demonstrate the courage to be a whole person. Most of us do our best to compartmentalize the different aspects of our lives, but the truth is, compartmentalization creates isolation, and we end up isolating ourselves with our challenges. You may not feel supported or deeply connected with other team members because they don’t have a clue what’s going on with you. In isolation, we're kept from the support and connection that our team members can offer us.

What’s amazing is how listening to someone’s story often replaces the old version of the story you may have told yourself or made up about that person. It’s human nature to fill in the blanks. We bring closure to things that are open because we dislike uncertainty. Although this survival skill is useful in certain circumstances, it is harmful when you are trying to build relationships and trust with coworkers. To truly connect, you need the real story from the only person who can tell it.

Keep in mind that sharing stories may not always be appropriate. Although showing some vulnerability can help in building trust with clients and colleagues it isn’t worth impacting your wellbeing. Only share what you feel comfortable with. If you wouldn’t put it on a billboard don’t share it. If you are comfortable sharing something sensitive, consider using a disclaimer at the beginning and make people aware of what you will cover, and then offer support at the end.

When storytelling to build trust and deeper connections, it’s important to keep things positive, inspiring, and not spend time talking negatively of others. Of course everyone has negative events that have shaped their story but unless you’ve already established a strong relationship with the other person, it may be better not to dwell on them while building a relationship. Lastly, keep appropriate boundaries in mind before you share. This will help minimize the risk of oversharing. You can get personal, but not too personal. It might also be beneficial to avoid mentioning names in the story and not give in-depth location details.

Now that you understand the importance of sharing personal stories, how can you cultivate it? You can create opportunities to share your story every day in simple ways. You can eat lunch or grab coffee together to learn about them, their hobbies, passions and ideas. You could also attend fundraising events, volunteer on the weekend, or plan a team outing together. Another way is to consider utilizing weekly meetings to include something personal, like a quick story or update. You can ask others what they did over the weekend, or what they plan to do on the upcoming weekend. Sure, it’s during business time, but part of business is getting to know the people you work with. So, find ways to keep connections alive. The more you connect and the deeper you explore together, the greater the return on building trust and, ultimately, your power as a team.

When people know one another well, they are much more likely to work well together. Having good relationships with people at work is fundamental to performance and wellbeing, and can really support us to thrive.


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