164486670How many times a day do you participate in an exchange like this:

Person 1: “How are you?”

Person 2: “Good. You?”

Person 1: “Fine.”

Person 2: “Great.”

This “check in” exchange is almost a social reflex; an extended way of simply saying “hello.” But what if it were more than that? What if you took the opportunity to truly engage with the questions and used it as a way to connect both with yourself and your co-workers?

With the pace of the work world constantly accelerating, emails coming in at the rate of 100s per day and conference calls often wedged into every available moment, you may find yourself moving through the day on autopilot. That state of constant spin, where you feel like a pinball propelled from meeting to meeting, is bad for business because it keeps us from connecting with and hearing our teams.

Research shows that leaders who go into the trenches with their teams, interacting in an authentic way and showing genuine interest in their well-being, have employees who are much more engaged and effective. But inspiring employees with encouragement and presence takes real investment, not just going through the motions. When you’re on autopilot, the tendency may be to engage in shallow interactions or formalities instead of true conversations. Instead of inspiring teams, this ends up conveying that, as a leader, you we have better things to do and would rather be behind the closed doors of an office.

What if you used the few precious moments of the “check in” to actually connect with a co-worker, team member, or even yourself?

There are certainly times when it’s necessary to take the time needed to get work done, and this is why small conversations become all the more important. But brief conversations don’t need to equal small talk. Next time, challenge yourself to truly engage and to really listen to the answer when you ask or hear, “Hi, how are you?” If the response you get when you ask is perfunctory, use it as an opportunity to have a real conversation.  Ask about experiences on projects, with new team members, or what the person is currently working on.  When people sense that they are truly being heard, they open up and share insights that they may not in a more superficial exchange.  In the same way, challenge yourself to be authentic and open if an employee asks you, “How it’s going?”   See if you can avoid an automatic response.  What happens when you give a brief update on what’s currently happening in your world, the accomplishments, major events or challenges?

With so many competing priorities, the time you have with your team is valuable. So when you are with your team, truly be with them, engaged and connected.

As the world becomes more complex, finding small ways throughout the day that give you the chance to be present and build rapport is essential to building a strong team. Increased attentiveness associates with greater focus, clarity and stronger executive presence. So next time someone asks you how you’re doing, take the time to really answer the question, even if only for yourself.