High Quality Connections

Building Relationships With Only 5 Minutes to Spare

You walk into work and immediately begin contemplating the overwhelming number of tasks you have to accomplish that day. After grabbing a quick cup of coffee, you sit at your desk and start to tackle your to-do list. With a never ending supply of emails and a bucket list of time sensitive deliverables, taking the time to make small talk with your co-workers seems out of the question.  

Amidst constant busy schedules and pressing deadlines, quality interactions with colleagues are often the first thing to go. This is unfortunate because humans instinctively have a need to belong. Making connections is an important aspect of the social experience within an organization (Stephens, Heaphy, & Dutton, 2011).

Fortunately, meaningful interactions don’t have to take up a great deal of time. As with many things in life, the value of an interaction lies in the quality of time spent, not the quantity of minutes taken away from your work. One way to still have social relationships with your co-workers, even if you are constantly busy, is by making an effort to forge high-quality connections. As explained by researchers Dutton and Heaphy (2003), these short-term interactions, whether between friends or between strangers, can lead to a substantial relationship over time. To make a high-quality connection work, both people must set aside what they are doing (e.g. disengage from their computers and abandon their to-do lists) and pay full attention to the person they are with. By simply having a five-minute high quality connection you can produce lasting benefits for yourself and even for the place that you work.

Research has shown that high quality connections can improve cognitive performance in terms of processing speed and working memory for both parties involved (Ybarra et al., 2008). In a sense, the few minutes that you spend connecting to a colleague may actually be made up for by feeling sharper. Naturally, feeling sharper will allow you to be a better contributor to your organization. Have you ever noticed that after having a great conversation with a co-worker your insides are beaming and you’re suddenly on the ball? If that’s not enough to convince you that a 5 minute interaction is worthwhile, research even suggests that high quality connections are beneficial for your cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune system health (Heaphy, & Dutton, 2008).

Having these brief interactions at work can lead to additional valuable outcomes for your organization by fostering confidence in your co-workers. High quality connections are associated with greater levels of psychological safety and trust - integral elements of high functioning teams (Carmeli, Brueller, & Dutton, 2009). Imagine how much more time it would take to micromanage your employees’ activities, than to get to know them enough to build trust. In short, taking five minutes out of your day to foster a high quality connection can have major benefits for yourself and your organization.

So how do you go about building and strengthening the quality of your connections with your co-workers? Stephens et al. (2011) outline three ways:

  1. Perspective-Taking: Perspective taking occurs when you imagine yourself in another person’s shoes. This helps you to predict the other person’s behavior and to shape your own behavior in a way that displays concern. So, the next time a colleague pulls you away from your work by engaging you in a 5 minute conversation, try to actively listen to what they are saying and mentally picture yourself in their place.

  2. Emotional Contagion: Emotional contagion is how a person explicitly influences the emotions and attitudes of another person. Individuals share similar emotional experiences as they unconsciously mimic each other’s facial expressions and movements. For instance, if my co-worker smiles while we are talking, I also smile. This mimicry has been linked to greater liking and rapport. Contagion has been shown to affect the quality of the connection when the emotion displayed is authentic and real. Therefore, when speaking with a co-worker, try to empathize and pay attention to see whether or not your emotions mimic theirs.

  3. Respectful Behaviors: Respectful behaviors are defined by showing esteem, dignity and care for another person. Gestures, talk, and bodily postures are often interpreted as a sign of respect through interactions. When these behaviors demonstrate respect, they foster people’s chances of experiencing a high quality connection. So, while in your next interaction, be aware of your body language, gestures and tone. Think about what behaviors you would find respectful, and try to behave the same way towards them.

Although today’s work world is constantly overrun by tasks that need to be accomplished, everyone has at least five minutes to spare. During that time, turn to a co-worker and engage in a high quality connection. You and your company will be grateful for it later!


Carmeli, A., Brueller, D., & Dutton, J. E. (2009). Learning behaviors in the workplace: The role of high quality interpersonal relationships and psychological safety. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 26, 81-98.

Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 263-278). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Heaphy, E., & Dutton, J. E. (2008). Positive social interactions and the human body at work: Linking organizations and physiology. Academy of Management Review, 33, 137-162.

Stephens, J.P., Heaphy, E., & Dutton, J.E. (2011). High-quality connections. In K. S. Cameron (Eds.), Handbook of positive organizational scholarship (pp. 385-399). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Vogus, T. J. (2004). In search of mechanisms: How do HR practices affect organizational performance? (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.

Ybarra, O., Burnstein, E., Winkielman, P., Keller, M. C., Manis, M., Chan, E., & Rodriquez, J. (2008). Mental exercising through simple socializing: Social interaction promotes general cognitive functioning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 248-259.