This fall, Renee Bourdeaux draws on her expertise in communications and her experience as a college professor to offer tips on building strong relationships with academic colleagues. Stay tuned for three posts exploring connections with fellow academics in your department and university. In addition to applying her academic knowledge, each week Renee will also offer a prayer and a practical exercise to help readers build community in academic settings.
I love my job, and I am positive that one of the main reasons why I practically skip to my office every day has to do with my colleagues. The culture of my campus is collegial, and hallway connections happen all of the time. For example, when I arrive on campus in the morning, I am often stopped on the way to my office by colleagues asking about me or my weekend. Now, I know what you are thinking, I just got lucky. I mean, sure, I DID hit the colleague jackpot at my current job, but those awesome collegial connections do not just happen. I have to make time for them. One of the ways I do that is through connecting with colleagues in the hallways.
Hallway connections are powerful. By taking the time to talk to my colleagues every time I pass them (or happen by their office), I am demonstrating to them I want to know them and connect with them. For me, my commitment to hallway connections starts every Monday morning when I start the journey to the faculty lounge to fill my water pitcher. I intentionally stop to chat with every single faculty and staff person I see. Since this trek spans three buildings, you can imagine how many connection opportunities arise. And, I take advantage of every single one. I stop to chat with colleagues in the hallways, in their offices, and I have even been known to pop my head in a classroom before a class begins to offer a greeting.
Chats in the hallway take time, and it’s easy for me to feel like I don’t have that much time. But as a scholar who studies interpersonal communication, I’ve been reminded again and again by the research as to the benefits of building and maintaining relationships. Communication research helps me see just how complex friendships can be, and that helps me as I seek to build friendships with colleagues. According to Steven McCornack (Reflect and Relate: An Introduction to Interpersonal Communication), friendship is defined by the following five facets:
- Friendship is voluntary. We can choose anyone we want to be our friend. Many of the relationships in our lives are not voluntary (family, for example), but we have been given the beautiful gift of being able to befriend anyone. Seriously, anyone. We, however, must make the choice to seek out friendship and start. You can start a friendship simply by intentionally stopping to chat with a colleague in the hallway.
- Friendship is driven by shared interests. I am not a mind-reader. The only way I will ever know if I have anything in common with my colleagues is if we talk about our lives, our jobs, our hobbies, our faith, and our families (assuming, of course, that all topics are appropriate to the context). The shared interests will not be discovered if we do not make the time to share our interests with others. To help a friendship grow, continually share about yourself until you find some common interests. This starts with hallway chats.
- Friendship is characterized by self-disclosure. This should not be a surprise: if we want others to share more about themselves, we need to start with sharing about ourselves. This means that instead of saying good morning and continuing to walk past a colleague in the hallway (often without even slowing down to see if they respond), we need to intentionally share about ourselves. Try something like this: “Hey, I have had some meaningful connections with students lately in my classroom. How has teaching been going for you?”
- Friendship is rooted in liking. For me, this is the easiest one to connect with. God calls us to love one another. And, to love my neighbor, I also have to like them. God’s greatest commandment gives us a clear path to liking by commanding us to love. So, challenge yourself to connect with your colleagues in passing to find ways to like (and consequentially love) as God commanded.
- Friendship is volatile. Of the types of relationships out there, friendships are actually the most fragile. In order to keep friendships strong, we need to maintain them so they do not become volatile. This is easily accomplished by having hallway conversations whenever you see the opportunity.
To achieve friendship using those five factors, one must faithfully commit to intentionally seeking out friendships. In An Essential Guide to Interpersonal Communication, Schultze and Badzinski share that “being a faithful communicator is a dynamic calling to live obediently in relationship with God and neighbor” (p. 58). To live obediently in relationship with God, we need to also live obediently in relationship with our neighbors. Therefore, we must make a commitment to faithfully communicate with our colleagues, and the best place to start is the hallway.
Week One Prayer: Gracious God, your calling has led each of us to our current place of employment. We ask that you help us to faithfully communicate with you and with those we work with every day. Please guide our paths so we have the opportunity to connect with our colleagues, and please provide us with clear ideas and words to connect with our colleagues in the hallways.
Week One Challenge: Intentionally stop and talk to three people in the hallway each day at work this week.