Don't ignore the power of relationships at work

Our emotional worlds have a far bigger impact on our working lives than we realise, according to author and psychotherapist Esther Perel

In her talk at the Unleash World Conference and Expo in Amsterdam, Perel explained that just as our upbringing shapes our views on personal relationships the same is true of our working relationships.

"We all come to relationships with filters; we don’t magically become different when we enter our offices. Our emotional dowry accompanies us into our adult relationships and working relationships," she said.

"Ask yourself: were relationships central in your life while growing up or were they preferential? What were some of the main messages that you internalised about relationships? Were you told: ‘people are important, you count on them, you are never alone'. Were you responded to with empathy? Or did you learn to trust? Or were you told ‘you’ve only got yourself, and no-one will come and help you as best as you can help yourself'?"

She said that generally people are divided between a need for security and a need for freedom.

"When you think about our need for security and our need for adventure – and this exists on every team, in every relationship – some are more in touch with your fear of abandonment, and some of you are more afraid of the fear of losing yourself and feeling suffocated. Often both exist in the same relationships and the same groups."

There are two main psychological traps in our personal and work relationships; confirmation bias and fundamental attribution error, she explained.

"There are two key traps that always accompany us. One is our confirmation bias; if you live with the notion that you don’t matter you will look for it. If you live with the notion that people will always do what you want you look for it. We tend to look for evidence that confirms our beliefs about ourselves and our beliefs about others. And we tend to disregard evidence that will challenge our assumptions.

"There is another trap that is even more interesting called fundamental attribution error. In simple language it goes: if I’ve had a bad day it’s because I’m in a bad mood, but if you’ve had a bad day it’s because you’re a nasty person. Mine is circumstantial; yours is characterological. We think of ourselves as way more complex than the other."

Perel concluded that despite knowing their importance, relationships at work are still overlooked in HR.

"There are workshops about everything these days: food, health, transportation, you name it. I go to conference after conference, and yet there are no workshops about relationships. Everybody knows it is the elephant in the room. AI will help us greatly, but emotional intelligence and relationship intelligence… that, so far, is something machines will never get to," she said.

"We know that the best relationships are ones that harness safety while making room for imagination and change. Exactly like the best companies can straddle the dichotomy between security and adventure."

She advised delegates to build and strengthen relationships through focusing more on conversations and face-to-face interactions, and to step back from technology.

"Your relationships are your story; I urge you to write well and edit often."