Kat Vellos Helps Us Be Intentional with Making Friends at Work

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In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author and keynote speaker Kat Vellos on the importance of making friends at work for ourselves and workplace culture, and how to take those steps to connection.

A few reasons why she is awesome  —  she is a facilitator, keynote speaker and author of the book We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships. She’s created tools to help with that friendship building, including The Better than Small Talk conversation starter cards and The Better Conversations Kit. She’s a former user experience designer, working for Slack and Pandora and founder of the Bay Area Black Designers, the Bay Area’s largest professional development community for Black UX and product designers. And Kat has been featured in the New York Times, NPR, TEDx and more for her work.

Connect with, and learn more about Kat on her…



  • Importance of workplace relationships.
  • Impact relationships have on workplace culture.
  • The four “seeds of connection” essential for cultivating friendships.
  • Missteps we make in friendship building.
  • How remote work impacts friendship.
  • What intentional networking looks like.
  • Utilizing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).
  • Role of organizations in facilitating connections.

“The company has an obligation to ensure that whoever is in leadership is exemplifying, like actually, truly trying to be of service – showing these values, demonstrating them and setting the bar for really what that should look like.”

Kat Vellos


Russel Lolacher: And on the show today we have Kat Vellos and here is why she is awesome. She’s a facilitator and keynote speaker and author of the book, We Should Get Together – The Secrets of Cultivating Better Friendships. Did I mention she also drew the darn thing too?

She’s created tools to help with that friendship building. Should mention that. The Better Than Small Talk Conversation Starter Cards or The Better Conversations Kit. You can check out both those tools online. She’s a former user experience designer working for Slack and Pandora. Super curious about that, especially how it relates to building friendships.

And she’s a founder of the Bay area, black designers, the Bay area’s largest professional development community for black UX and product designers. Did I mention she’s also been featured in New York times, NPR, TEDx, and more and more and more and more. And she’s here. Hello, Kat.

Kat Vellos: Hello, Russel. It’s great to be with you today.

Russel Lolacher: You too. Kat, I know we talked before we started recording and you knew this was coming, so I have to ask it, which is… what’s your best or worst employee experience?

Kat Vellos: Yeah, so I, it’s funny that we’re calling it an employee experience because while I experienced it as an employee experience, there’s also a distinction between work and service. So when I was in my. twenties, my early twenties, I did a couple of years of AmeriCorps, which for those who don’t know is national service.

So it’s like the Peace Corps, but it’s domestic. And I did two years of AmeriCorps up in the Pacific Northwest. And it was a life changing, beautiful experience. And my AmeriCorps director to this day is the best boss I ever had. And the reason why I clarify at the beginning to say work and service, she was really big about this.

She was like, this is not a job. This is service. And I think that she really instilled that in all 50 members of our team. And it’s, it’s really informed the way that I actually approach work ever since. And I think that is something that everybody should get to experience, actually. It’s like how to be of service in that way.

Russel Lolacher: I have to ask, so what made her such a great leader or, or a boss? Was it because she was sort of attaching your work to the value of what you were doing?

Kat Vellos: Absolutely. Like the understanding that when you’re in a role of service, you are there to give, you are there to share the best of your skills and abilities to improve the lives of others. That’s really what makes it different. And the way she clarified it was saying, you know, when you’re in a job, sometimes you’re like, what’s in it for me? Which is unfortunately not the best framework to be in to also be thinking and prioritizing the people that you’re actually there to serve.

Russel Lolacher: It’s so funny how you talk about, there’s such a distinction when, and I sure, I’m sure we both can agree on this. There shouldn’t be.

Kat Vellos: There shouldn’t be. Yeah. Mm hmm. There shouldn’t be.

Russel Lolacher: I, I find it so interesting that it’s sort of this service idea of a bigger calling, helping others. And yet so many people that stay in organizations and have the highest retention are also echoing the same things of, I feel a connection to the work. I feel like there’s value in what I do.

And yet. And yet. Today we’re talking about workplace friendships. So curious about this. So I have to start off with defining things. I, I’ve found myself having to do this early on in the podcast where we talk about these topics, but maybe it means something a little different to my guest, or maybe it might be something different to the listener.

So, before we get going, can we talk about when you say workplace friendships, what is the look and feel of that type of relationship?

Kat Vellos: I see it in a couple of different ways. So one is a colleagueship and the other is a friendship that transcends the workplace. It’s in the workplace, but it also kind of goes outside of the workplace, too. And so colleagueship is what I offer to folks who say, I don’t go to work to make friends. I came here to work.

And it’s okay, great. Let’s talk about how to have a healthy colleagueship. It’s often quite similar to a healthy friendship. And then a workplace friendship or a work friend is someone that you are legitimately friends with. And it is more likely that whether you both work there or not, this is a true friend and you’re probably going to stay a part of each other’s lives.

Russel Lolacher: Will that blend into personal as well? I mean, because we talk…

Kat Vellos: More likely, yeah, that’s the distinction between the two is, the friendship that it happens to be in the workplace and may, like I said, transcend the workplace means that if one of you leaves the company, you’re probably still going to be friends. If you both leave the company, you’re probably still going to be friends.

And your friendship may even take on a deeper dimension because it doesn’t have all of the workplace professionalism stuff to navigate, but a colleagueship is again, what I typically offer to folks who say, well, I don’t want my friends in my personal life. And it’s okay, well, you can still have healthy, friendly workplace relationships too, you know. Like the, the quip I make, which is like a quip, but not really is to say if you say you don’t go to work to make friends and it’s okay, fine. Do you go to work to make enemies? Hopefully no. So let’s say, how can you have really healthy, positive relationships at work as well, while still keeping it professional.

Russel Lolacher: And those people that go to work not to make enemies, but also not to sort of build stronger relationships, they’re sort of head down

Kat Vellos: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Russel Lolacher: Doing their jobs. Nine, nine to five. I’ll use that cliche, but I’m just trying to figure out, is there degrees of this friendship because we talk about the two that you provide, but there’s also that person that doesn’t go for friendships, but isn’t looking to alienate people either.

So is it a degree thing?

Kat Vellos: Certainly. Yeah. Just like in real life, how you have some acquaintances. So on the spectrum of relationships, there’s friendly strangers, so people you recognize by face, but you’ve probably not had conversations with, but you might nod at each other. And then there’s acquaintances who you’d make some chit chat with, or closer acquaintances or casual friends that you might every now and then chat with longer, have a deeper relationship.

Mm hmm. Yep. I don’t know, maybe a coffee or something with, and then there’s good friends and then there’s great friends and there’s best friends. And so it’s like these rings of connection and this is all from the research of Robin Dunbar. And so that can also have a workplace component too.

Russel Lolacher: Why, Kat? Why should we be pursuing better relationships, better connections, better friendships at work? What is, why should we do this?

Kat Vellos: Right. So there’s a lot of different reasons. One that I’m a very practical person, and just on a purely pragmatic level, the fact that when we are in adulthood, the aside from whoever you live with, the people that you’re probably going to spend the most time with is going to be your co workers. So there’s a really great chart that illustrates this from our time use our World in Data’s Time Use Survey, and it shows that the… when they look at the line for how much time we spend with friends, with colleagues, with family, etc., by yourself, alone, as well, the line with friends typically peaks at around 18, and then it drops until 35, and it stays low pretty much until the end of life. The line with coworkers rises around the 20s and stays high until you’re about 55 or 60 through the end of the chart. And so just on a purely pragmatic level, you are going to be spending more time because you got to go to work 40 plus hours a week with these coworkers.

And so you might as well invest in having meaningful, positive, uplifting relationships with the people that you’re going to spend the most time with. Not only because it’s pleasant, but also because as we all know, if you have stressful or toxic or unhealthy relationships, they take a lot of toll on the body, your physical health, your mental health, your emotional health.

So it is in both of your best interest, honestly, to try to make that as conducive to a positive, healthy connection as you can, because you’re going to spend a lot of time there and that’s going to affect your health and well being long term.


Russel Lolacher: So from a bigger picture perspective, if we do this more proactively, more intentionally, and I’m kind of curious as to some of the steps you’d suggest in doing that to somebody that may not be as, Oh, I don’t know, extroverted or may not just come as naturally to them, but what are the impacts to culture when you start making those connections, making them more meaningful than just transactional. What is the benefit to a culture at large?

Kat Vellos: Definitely. And I want to clarify, I’m not an extrovert. And I speak openly about this in my book and in my talks, like I’m an introvert. And this isn’t the domain of extroverts to want to have meaningful platonic relationships and positive platonic relationships. I would even argue that because introverts are more


impacted by social engagement, we actually want them to be the strongest the most because otherwise we’re going to feel drained regardless. So it might as well be for a really good reason. So with that, the impact on culture is profound because what we know is that when workers feel more belonging at work, more connection when they have a best friend at work, they more, they’re more likely to produce higher quality work.

They’re more likely to do and part of the reason for that is because you want to do good work for your buddies at work. You know, you want to uplift the things you’re trying to accomplish together. I know that, you know, all of this as well. And then retention is also increased when people feel a sense of connection or when they have a best friend at work or even a good friend at work.

So it’s, it is a positive work experience because what it creates is this like upward trending spiral where everybody is doing well together and improving the work of each other and also improving the retention. And so all of that just contributes to a work environment where the best work and innovation can happen. It’s like when we don’t have it, the biggest impact is on psychological safety. When people don’t feel like their ideas are going to be listened to, or even respected in a meeting, they’re unlikely to share them because that doubt of, am I going to be ridiculed?

Is someone going to say something snarky to me? You know, it holds people back from sharing their ideas or asking really important questions that could save a project from being totally, like shipwrecked. And so it’s really significant to have a culture where people do have that psychological safety. And, and it doesn’t mean that everybody’s best friends and they’re going to cheers at night, you know, whatever.

But it’s, but it’s, it’s significant to have a place where people do feel a sense of acceptance and safety. As a baseline.

Russel Lolacher: I think of maybe we’ll, we’ll call them Steve. I don’t know why, but there’s that person that’s not lives and works in a silo, loves working and living in that silo. But I’ve worked in organizations where do you know what Steve does? Do you like, I know he’s been here for 15 years, but nobody talks to him.

He doesn’t talk to anybody. And how many problems could be solved when we find out actually he’s the person that fixes that problem because we know Steve. We know what he does. We don’t have to have the deepest friendship or relationship, but we have familiarity and I, I feel how well that could help the culture of an organization because as you said, it is personalized.

There are introverts, there are extroverts and that’s fine, but we need to know who we work with and that can only come with some level of relationship friendship being built and that spectrum sort of thing.

Kat Vellos: Yeah, and I’ve met Steve before. I kind of have a sense of who this person is. And the funny thing about it is even if Steve isn’t in work to become besties with every person there, chances are what Steve is also hoping for is some level of respect, some level of visibility, some sense of being valued, some sense of being trusted, and to feel like his voice matters, right?

And those are all things that we all probably want when we go to work and that are present in healthy workplace relationships, just as much as they’re present in healthy friendships.

Russel Lolacher: Fair. So let’s take a few steps here, Kat. How do you cultivate friendships? How do you go down this path of not only starting, but also cultivating those friendships because it’s not a checkbox, this is relationship building. Where would you even start?

Kat Vellos: Well, when you ask about where to start with friendships, and I’ll, I’ll start by explaining the model that I have in the book. Which is really just about adding friendship to your life and your personal life. And then I’ll talk about how you can apply that in the workplace. So there’s four, I call them seeds of connection in the book and their four main attributes that make a friendship more likely to grow.

So they include proximity, frequency, compatibility, and commitment. And the more of those you have with somebody, the more likely you are to be friends with them or to be able to maintain a friendship somewhat easily. And in the workplace, you have some frequency because you’re both showing up to the same place, but even if you’re virtual and you’re just in Zoom or Slack together, you’re showing up over and over again to the same place.

If you do have any hybrid or in person work, there’s a physical proximity as well that you may share. There is… if there’s someone in the workplace that you feel quite compatible with, you really like their energy, they have a great attitude. Every time you have to collaborate together, you’re like, Oh, great.

I’m so glad I get to work with them. Or they, you know, crack the best jokes, whatever it is, you really admire or appreciate them. There’s some compatibility there. And if that’s mutual, then the next thing you can do is to say, well, what does it look like from a commitment standpoint? The commitment that you have to each other in the workplace is really different than what you might have in your personal life, but you’re showing up to work and you might demonstrate your commitment by keeping your word when you tell them.

Hey, I’m going to get you this document by 4 PM on Tuesday. You show your commitment by letting them know verbally. I really loved collaborating with you on this last project, Russel. You really knocked it out of the park in that, you know, presentation. And saying, do you want to go get a celebratory coffee, you know, or doing something additional that shows I really appreciate you and I want to spend time with you.

And I want you to know that you matter to me.

Russel Lolacher: Where can we misstep in this? Because I know people that will even assume a friendship has been established and it hasn’t. Oh, we’re all friends here. I’m like, Oh, no, we’re not like, I never liked you. But there is that assumption of connection when it’s… like how, how can we misstep this process? Cause it seems pretty straightforward and makes a lot of sense.

Kat Vellos: Well, as, as you described, I was thinking too, and you said that example of someone says, Oh, we’re all friends. And you’re like, no, we’re not. I think there can be a misstep in in that particular case, I’m thinking of specifically. Where someone has over assumed what the closeness is without ever maybe checking to see how the other person feels or the other people in the team feel, that often can manifest in the example of, you know, the team lead saying Oh, we’re all gonna go to karaoke together or whatever, because we’re all you.

Chummy with each other. And there’s somebody in that team who maybe feels really isolated or alienated and they’re like, Oh, God, this is going to be so uncomfortable and awkward and I can’t escape and I have to pretend like I’m happy here. So I think there’s some listening that’s necessary, particularly in any situation where the manager or people lead is going to be making decisions on behalf of the group as far as what the group, what friendship activity the group is going to do together.

It’s like maybe find out how people are feeling and what would help them feel supported and then on a more one to one level, I think it can be useful to simply talk to people and find out. Ask them questions, lead with curiosity to find out, so how, how connected do you feel here at work? Do you like making friends at work?

Have you made friends at work before? You know, I had this conversation once with a colleague and she had told me that since moving to the city a few years before, 100 percent of her friends had come from work, not only in the job that we were currently at, but at her previous job as well. And that was interesting to me.

I, I assumed it would be some of her friends, but she said all of her friends had come through the workplace and she, you know, like to stay friends with people after she left the job. And so my awareness, simply by asking her what has it been like for you making friends since you moved here was to learn that.

Finding friendship in the workplace was a high priority for her. Very different right than if she had said, oh, you know work is work and most of my friends are from college or from grad school or from my Pilates team or whatever. Whatever it is, my Pilates to do whatever it is, you learn a lot by just asking people broad general questions of what’s it been like for you making friends since you moved to the city or what’s it been like, or have you made friends in the workplace here? You know, by finding out what has maybe happened for them in the recent past, you can get some information about where they might be in the present.

Russel Lolacher: Can this be a slippery slope? The reason I ask this is I’ve, I can make friends, you’ve made friends, but sometimes it gets almost to the area of familiarity where it’s almost unprofessional where it gets to the level of. Okay, we get it.

Kat Vellos: Yeah.

Russel Lolacher: You’re close friends and it can… having that familiarity where it can almost be too, or am I getting too sensitive around the idea that people work differently?

You know what I mean? Cause, and I say this because I hate the word professionalism. It is one of my least favorite words because it puts this barrier up against inclusivity and diversity. If you’re not this type of way, you’re not professional than this. So I’m wondering if this friendship, this level of friendship can dip its toe into that area and go a little too far.

Kat Vellos: With the professionalism expectations?

Russel Lolacher: Yeah.

Kat Vellos: More than likely where I see it go not so well is with people not pursuing friendship because they are trying to perform professionalism. They leave a lot of, they leave a lot of chips on the table because they’re just like too afraid to try or too afraid to reach out or too afraid to do anything that might, Oh, well, I have to be professional and holding themselves back from, from building what might be a really positive seed for friendship there. And the other thing, too, I want to say, because it comes up, not just in this conversation, but whenever I’m talking with folks about, to having the courage to see if this other person is… wants a friendship too. And one of the things that we can do if you don’t want to make the other person feel like they’re on the spot, or question, like, where, where is these questions coming from?

What is your motive for asking me this thing that feels a little personal? If you lead first with some information about yourself, if you disclose something that sets the context for them, that is a massive way to disarm any of the awkwardness or doubt or questioning about like where this is coming from. And it doesn’t mean you have to be like, Oh, I’ve been having a hard time making friends. Can I talk to you about it? And then they’re like, Whoa, this isn’t therapy. That, it doesn’t have to be that deep. Don’t do it that way. Right? Like instead you can say, I just listened to a really interesting podcast about friendship and adulthood, you know, or friendship in the workplace. Yeah.

Yeah. Or I just read a really interesting article or book about friendship, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot more. Do you have a few minutes? I’d love to chat with you about it. Or when someone says the, you know, what have you been up to lately? You can share that that’s something you’ve been thinking about.

Or what’s been on your mind lately. There’s so many default questions we use in conversation and we have a script with a bunch of default answers, but you don’t have to do the script. You can share something that kind of opens a door to that conversation, discloses that this is something that matters to you and notice, pay attention.

Do they bite? Do they respond with curiosity? Do they back away? Do they come forward? What their responses will tell you? You may or may not be able to approach this conversation with them and see if this is something they want to talk about or explore, too.

Russel Lolacher: You mentioned proximity earlier, but the world has changed quite a bit because we did mention remote work as well. So technology and new ways of working are certainly factors that a lot of organizations are going through. How do you build that connection and perpetuate that connection while not sitting beside each other or walking by their office every day?

Kat Vellos: Yeah, so there’s a few different ways to think about proximity. I actually did a post on Instagram about this a while ago really looking at the different forms of what proximity can mean. So in the most default definition of that, we’re talking physical geographical space. But there’s energetic proximity, there’s, personality proximity, there’s collaboration proximity, there’s spiritual proximity, there’s these different ways in which we feel close to people.

Even the fact that in the English language we use the word close to mean things beyond physical closeness, right? So in that way, you can think about who you are proximal to in your work, even if you’re both remotely working at your desk, in your in your home office, right?

Russel Lolacher: For me, I, I generally, I don’t know why I do this. So I have I’ve been in teams, but I’ve also been not having a teams, but having relationships with others that far reach outside my portion of the organization and I’ll do little messages like I saw you do this the other day or this presentation, unbelievably blah, blah, blah.

Like just little seeds or did you come back from your, how was your vacation? Cause I knew they had mentioned two months ago that they went to Colorado. So did you have a great time? Like just those little. It doesn’t need to be all the time, but those little check ins, which really help perpetuate a friendship of, I was thinking about you.

Kat Vellos: Exactly.

Russel Lolacher: It doesn’t need to be anything deeper than just how were your kids on the first day of school? Cause I know you have kids, even though I don’t, I know you do. And that’s a stressful time. And it could be, it doesn’t need to be any longer than say one little, two little sentences. And that’s it. You don’t have to talk to them again for a week. If if they’re not, well, if they’re not part of your regular flow, but you’re still maintaining the friendship and I say regular flow as in your workflow is in your regular occurrences within your day to day work, but maybe you met them three months ago and you really hit it off on that one project that you’re not working on anymore, but you still need to perpetuate that friendship because it matters to you.

Kat Vellos: Yeah.

Russel Lolacher: Anything else you would suggest as a way to sort of just, it doesn’t have to be grand gestures.

Kat Vellos: Yeah. It doesn’t have to be grand gestures. I love your example of those one to two sentence check ins that lets somebody knows that you’re thinking of them and you remember them. Another thing that you can do that’s not a grand gesture, but just a small and not also too demanding on your time… This is something I used to do, at Slack is that I would make sure that I had a monthly or weekly recurring lunch with somebody who’s outside of my department.

So the, so the prompt for myself was set this reminder to invite somebody to have lunch with me. And I would invite someone that I normally would never work with or necessarily have a one on one lunch with, like maybe there was someone else who was in the department. We knew who each other were, but our work did not bring us together.

And so I might be like, Hey, like I do these lunches with different people outside of my department. I have a couple of dates coming up. Do you want to come to lunch with me on one of these days. Almost every single time someone said yes, when they were invited. People love to be invited. My old TEDxTalk is about invitations because it’s a really meaningful way to open the door to a connection.

And so we would have a lunch. There was no expectation that like, okay, now we got to make it like every, every day or every Tuesday thing or whatever. But it was just a nice way to form a closer connection to someone who is also not in the muck of your like day to day stress or anything like that. So often our conversations went many more divergent ways than if you have lunch with just the colleague you sit next to, where you’re more likely to talk about your day to day projects and talk about work.

When you go to someone who you have less of that default script of things to talk about, it’s more, it opens up so many more doors to interesting conversations.

Russel Lolacher: And something else I want… I love that by the way, because I love the intention of it. Having reminders in a calendar to go, you should go make friends today. Like really just a way of just making it part of your day to day. I remember talking to an executive not too long ago, and they asked me, how do they, how do they listen, connect with other employees?

I’m like, who are you connecting with now? He’s oh, you know, his two administrative assistants. That’s all he ever talked to. I’m like, you are self isolating. It’s your fault. Go walk a different floor. Go say hi to a front end staff. Like just get out of the bubble, you’ve man made created for yourself and go…

So that’s what that reminds, that story reminded me of your story reminded me of that. Just the intention and the purposefulness of getting out of your day to day and your regular faces and build those relationships and friendships because it can’t happen organically. If you’re just sitting at your desk…

Kat Vellos: Oh, yeah.

Russel Lolacher: and go, people need to talk to me more.

Kat Vellos: No, no, it’s, it’s usually not going to happen that way. And the other thing too, I will say is if somebody wants to try this and you’re wondering, Oh, I’m not sure where to begin. If you work at a company that has any employee resource groups or E.R.G.S, like this is a prime, like prime real estate place to go make those friends because through these affinity groups, you know, that you already have something in common with the other people who are there, whether it’s like the, so I was in all of them.

I was in like. The women’s E.R.G., the LGBTQIA plus E.R.G.. I was also in the E.R.G. For people of color or black folks, you know. And so those are spaces where there are other people in the company who are likely also looking for a connection or they wouldn’t have joined the E.R.G. In the first place. And so if there, I remember one really amazing friend I made at work where we had both attended a workshop that was facilitated by the E. R. G. And during the workshop, we were paired for a little buddy activity. We had to partner up and do a little 15 minute activity together, but we had a really great conversation. And so we decided to keep in touch afterwards and follow up with each other on this particular practice we were going to be doing.

And we ended up staying friends for the next year. And it was awesome because we would have these monthly check ins be like, how is it going with that thing? And we had this meaningful thing of connection that happened outside of our day to day work while still at work. And it was just a wonderful experience because I would have never met this person otherwise, if I didn’t go to that workshop.

And it was just so cool that we were both willing to say let’s keep the conversation going after this, you know, hour and a half workshop is over. And so just pay attention to the people that are around you, get involved and then see how you can continue to support somebody else and also ask for support.

And so like in that example I just gave, you know, it was really meaningful to have this person. That I was, you know, cheerleading for his projects. He was cheerleading for mine, and it was just so nice to be like, there’s someone else who cares about what I’m doing, who isn’t even a part of my day to day work.

Like we don’t have to care about each other. We choose to care about each other and it was just really, really lovely. So I, I highly recommend getting involved in the E.R.G.S if there isn’t one. Start one. I don’t know

Russel Lolacher: The mention of E.R.G.S makes me think about the organization at large, because we’re talking about, we need to do this. We can do this. We can be empowered to do this, but what is the role of the organization in creating an environment that allows these healthy relationships? What do they need to be doing?

Kat Vellos: Well as we talked about before, ensuring psychological safety is the number one most important thing because without that it’s gonna be pretty hard to build anything else, much less healthy friendships healthy colleagueships, healthy teams, etc Psychological safety is the number one most important thing And so if a company doesn’t have that, they need to focus on fixing that before they try to like layer on icing.

You need a cake first. You can’t just come with the icing. And so with that modeling the behaviors that are expected from people who are there from the highest levels of leadership down, cause it doesn’t mean anything if the company has a value of kindness, if the leadership is routinely unkind to people or in like meetings saying things that cut people down, right?

Cause, people watch what you do more than what you say. So I would say definitely the company has an obligation to ensure that whoever is in leadership is exemplifying, like actually, truly trying to be of service in that way I talked about before, like showing these values, demonstrating them and setting the bar for really what that should look like.

In day to day practice. What I also mentioned is before, whenever there’s an opportunity to do a culture building activity, I think is so important for whoever the manager is that’s organizing that to talk to their staff first to find out what would be meaningful for them. A lot of assumptions get made about what fun looks like or what connection looks like.

Without anybody ever being asked if that’s something that would be fun or meaningful or connecting for them. And sometimes it can lead to the opposite. It can be isolating and lonely and like awkward and uncomfortable and not at all the way that they want to connect with their colleagues or spend time in the workplace.

So listening is a key component that anybody who is shepherding their staff or taking care of folks needs to think about listening first. And then if, if you do hear that there is a need or a request, be of support, be of service, how can you help that person get that need met, whether it’s within their immediate team, an adjacent team, an E.R.G., like sponsoring them to start a club, whatever it might be, be of support and service, so that that, if they have the courage to open up and say, I need help with this, have the dedication and commitment to follow through and help them make that happen.

Russel Lolacher: It goes back to the idea of defining things because you’ve mentioned connection, but connection, my definition of connection versus your definition of connection can be very, very different. And if you’re not listening and not defining it on a personal level, let’s stop talking about diversity, equity, inclusivity if we’re not looking to actually define what they mean for each individual in their world and how they show up at work, I find that very interesting that we will talk about D E I B, but we won’t do the steps that are needed for D E I B, which includes defining, listening and so forth. So communication seems to be the most important key here.

It seems to be through everything you’ve mentioned, it’s the DNA of, of communication, good and bad, whether it’s build this relationship, I’m just trying to think about like those, not everybody. Everybody assumes they’re good at communication because they’ve been talking since a young age, but most aren’t because they’re just.. just cause you can write an email, it doesn’t mean you’re a good communicator. So is there any tips you would suggest from a friendship creation level of tone, approach, where can communication be leveraged the best?

Kat Vellos: Mm. What a lovely question. It is all about communication, and I think, as you know, communication has two parts. It’s the, it’s the part where you do talking, and it’s the part where you do the listening, you know? And the way you listen, also communicates what kind of communicator you are, and how much you want to connect with the other person.

So I can tell, if you and I were having a Monday morning chat, oh, how was your weekend? Mm hmm. And you can… tell that I’m distracted, I’m multitasking, I’m scrolling on my phone at the same time, I’m listening to you, uh huh, huh, but I’m not really listening to you. That is communicating something about the type of connection I’m wanting to build with you, versus if I’m listening attentively, if I’m responding with follow up questions, if I remember a detail you shared in the past, if I ask a meaningful, Add on or share a story that adds on to what you’re building.

Like you can tell that I’m not only listening to you actively, but I’m looking to add on to the connection that we had from the first question by bringing more to it. Right? And so I would say paying close attention to the way that other people are listening and responding to you. And then also thinking about the way that you listen and respond to others.

So for example, one of the reasons why I created the better conversations calendar is because when we use the script of small talk, chit chat, like the default questions, it can be unclear whether we’re really trying to listen, or if we’re just saying the thing that we think we’re supposed to say, so it looks like, oh, now we’re having pleasantries.

And when you ask a different question or you ask the question in a different way, it makes it more clear. That you are here to listen, that you are actually curious, right? And so thinking about the way that you use questions as a doorway to connection, acknowledging that the type of question you choose and the way you ask it communicates a lot, regardless of whatever the answer to the question is.

Russel Lolacher: Oh, so agreed. Conflict is a part of that though to, Kat. In any friendship, any healthy relationship, there’s going to be conflict. The difference is at work, you still have to work with these people. You still have to interact and engage and deliver with these people.

Kat Vellos: Yeah.

Russel Lolacher: How do you navigate conflict even while trying to maintain these relationships?

Kat Vellos: Mm hmm. So conflict resolution is a skill. It’s a life skill and everybody needs to have it because if even in your personal life, if you throw away every relationship at the very first slightest conflict, you’re going to, you’re either going to be lonely or you’re going to have to spend a lot of time starting new relationships from scratch.

So being able to solve a problem or resolve a conflict and move forward is so significant. And the, that’s one of the sideways gifts of the workplace is because you have to keep seeing each other. You have a perfect training ground to practice those skills of clarity making and clearing misunderstandings and asking for a repair with someone like all of these things that you need to do, probably in your friendships at home, probably in your relationship, like you will need to practice those same kinds of things in the workplace with the added, I would say, added pressure of needing to do it in a setting where the stakes are a bit higher in some ways, because your income is tied to that place, right?

Whether you can stay there. And so, yes, great. And if conflict resolution is not something that someone feels comfortable with, I would highly encourage them to get into a setting, whether it’s a workshop or an online class or a group program or something where they have a safe place to practice those skills before they need to be using them in the heat of the moment.

In the heat of the moment, it is still hard to remember the things that you practice in the workshop, but because you will hopefully have learned a framework for how to approach those conflicts, things that you can say, things to definitely not say… are all things that will help you in the moment to do that.

So for example, One of… I read an article just this morning, actually, that was talking about better, better conversations. Obviously, I’m a communication junkie. I really am into like studying these topics all the time. And it and one of the researchers was stating that one of the mistakes people make when they have conflict is that they will come in hot right off the bat with the thing that’s wrong.

Right. So, if I see, you know, Steve in the hallway, just, I know we’re just picking on Steve today. If I, or Steve, if I see Steve in the hallway and I’m just like, Hey, Steve, there was a typo on the front page of the slide deck. He’s going to be like, WTF? What’s your problem? Like coming in hot. He’s… good morning!?

And so thinking about how do you open the conversation and how do you say we need to fix something, even if it’s urgent, but I’m still caring about you as a person. I’m not going to treat you like trash just because you made a mistake or I feel like you did something wrong.

Russel Lolacher: Before I get to the final question, I do have to ask you, Kat, how has workplace friendships you’ve cultivated, through writing your book…

Kat Vellos: mm hmm.

Russel Lolacher: even through your own experience, enriched your life? How has those workplace friendships made life a little better for you?

Kat Vellos: Oh, they’ve made life demonstrably better. They’re actually the center of my life and have been for so, so many years. Because friendship is something that has always been the most true form of acceptance, like all the D. E. like D. E. I. V. things, right? It’s like the inclusivity, the belonging, definitely diversity, that, you know, all of those things.

It’s love, it’s connection, it’s dedication, it’s playfulness, it’s curiosity, all of the things that make life great. Are present in my friendships and this is a big part of the reason why I chose to write this book was when I saw that we were in the middle of a loneliness epidemic and millions of americans were just living without friendship I was like want that for them and I don’t want that for me and I don’t want anyone to have to struggle with this so let’s talk about how we can make this better for everyone.

Russel Lolacher: Kat, what’s one simple action people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?

Kat Vellos: Yeah, one very easy, easy thing that you can do that will definitely improve the quality of your workplace friendships, your colleagueships, whatever you want to call them, is gratitude. So think of somebody right now that you appreciate in the workplace and send them a message just letting them know that you appreciate them.

Whether it’s for something that they said in the last meeting that you’re, you keep thinking, man, I’m so glad that they said that I really appreciate it. Or whether it’s the way that they consistently show up. for you and your team and how they, whatever energy or attitude they bring that you really admire or appreciate about them, whatever it is, pick something specific and let them know.

Don’t just be like, Hey, Jenny, you rock. Tell Jenny why she rocks. Tell her specifically what it is about her that you appreciate whoever it might be. Think of someone right now. that you work with, that you appreciate and tell them why.

Russel Lolacher: Even Steve.

Kat Vellos: Even Steve. Especially, Steve! I feel like Steve’s curmudgeonly because people have not told him they appreciate him. Let him know.

Russel Lolacher: He’s got so much love to give and yet no one is coming out to say hi to Steve. That is Kat Vellos. She is, she is a facilitator, a keynote speaker, and author of the book We Should Get Together: The Secret of Cultivating Better Friendships. She’s created some amazing tools to help us with that. Thank you so much for your time, Kat.

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