Growing up in the Bronx before the internet, we spent a lot of our recreational time “hanging out” on street corners with other people telling stories. It’s how we got to know each other, and it kept us busy. Sharing stories built trust, connections and long-term friendships. When new people moved into the neighborhood everyone wanted to know their story.

But when I entered the workforce, I remember my manager telling me on my first day, “Leave your personal life at home, and just do your job.” “We were not there to make friends, but to get the work done.”

That thinking is no longer the accepted norm as more organizations realize how important it is to build relationships inside the organization and to develop relationships with customers.

The diversity in the workplace, the need for collaboration to increase innovation, and the opportunity to do business on a global scale means that people have to get to know each other so they can work better together.

I still run into managers and even executives who maintain those outdated ideas, but they have high rates of turnover and can’t keep good employees.

Whether working globally, nationally, or locally, without building connection, developing relationships, or giving credibility to different experiences and perspectives, organizations, teams and workgroups will never be able to do their best work. They will never reap the tangible benefits of diversity.

Diversity alone doesn’t ensure innovation or new products and services.Looking good for the company photo is not enough. Organizations need more.

According to a study by the European Community Programme and Social Solidarity, diversity and inclusion lead innovation when three factors are in place, one of which is that people need to know each other and let go of preconceived assumptions and bias.

How to build connections and create workplace communities

When people share stories they get to know each other.Facilitated correctly, hearing each other’s stories helps us let go of preconceived assumptions and bias. People trust each other more, find common ground in surprising places and they feel safer participating and trying to solve problems. They share ideas and even disagree.

Meaningful stories create empathy. When people have empathy for their co-workers, they are more willing to help each other, less likely to engage in negative exclusionary behaviors and more likely to take risks. When they have empathy for their customers, they are better able to anticipate their needs which enables the organization to develop products that can improve lives which ultimately results in more profit.

Getting to know people on a level that instills trust and collaboration from different backgrounds, cultures or work functions can be a challenge at first but gets easier with practice. It prevents miscommunication, costly mistakes and the loss of productivity that can occur when people who are different don’t have a foundation for working together and solving problems.

Think of a time you made an assumption about another person based on what they looked like or what you heard. Maybe you were reluctant to talk to them, and even dreaded working with them, but then you were in a place where you heard their story, and your whole pre-judgment about them changed. Think of what you would have missed.

Once you know someone’s story or have a meaningful conversation, it’s easier to let go of wrong assumptions and harder to hold on to preconceived bias. You’re more likely to appreciate cultural differences and want to learn more.

How to story share

Here are a three of the key principles I’ve learned in over twenty-five years of facilitating dialogues and story-sharing in organizations.

  1. Be willing to share your story as well as listen to a story.
  2. Be relevant — know why you are sharing a story, or what you want another person to know about you.
  3. Speak from your own personal experiences.
  4. Look for connections and commonalities where you least expect it, and be curious about differences.
  5. Slow down and be fully present.
  6. Ask questions that are nonjudgmental that demonstrate your interest.
  7. Pay attention to what someone else thinks is important.

Here are three suggestions for beginning topics:

  1. First experience with…
  2. Overcoming a challenge
  3. Passion outside of work
  4. How and why you got your job
  5. Significant event in your life in the last year
  6. Some of this may sound simple and even obvious but the reality is that not enough people know their co-workers, especially if they are from different backgrounds. Diversity in the workplace is a fact but when people don’t know each other there is a likelihood that they will be stuck in their biases, generalizations and misinformation.

    You can make a difference in your workplace, in the rest of your life and develop long-term connections by sharing stories.