The One Thing That Can Change Everything

The one thing we most want — from our work, from our relationships, and from our lives — is getting harder and harder to get. The solution is right in front of your eyes.

Humanistic Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, said feeling cared about, accepted and respected is necessary before we can realize our full potential of consciousness and creativity. We long to be heard, be understood, and to feel significant. We must be seen by others before we can know ourselves.

A woman covering her face with her handsMaslow didn’t foresee how the denial of making meaningful connections at work—the place we spend most of our time—would hinder the possibility of self-actualization. Creating and sustaining these connections at home is difficult. Work presents an even greater challenge.

With eyes glued to screens and attention spans down to 8 seconds, we don’t see each other. We barely know each other much less accept each other for the unique, amazing beings we are. There is no time for bonding, no allowance for vulnerability, and little tolerance for conversations that go beneath the surface to look at what is missing.

Engagement is misinterpreted

Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Engagement is necessary for people to continually and willfully give their best efforts to an organization over time. Engagement is also scarce – Gallup survey results demonstrate that engagement levels have remained static for years, at around 30 percent, and 13 percent globally.

Peter Drucker said, “Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance.”

Solutions to the lack of engagement focus is on what to give people to make them happy. Leaders focus on how work is designed to be challenging and fun, what benefits to provide, and how flexible hours can be. They benevolently “empower” others. Employees may enjoy their surroundings, free time, and interesting tasks, but there is still one thing that can kill or strengthen their desire to give their best in return.

No matter how many things you do to make people happy, there is only one thing that works for everyone. Not giving people this one thing is the quickest way to kill their joy.

In the same article that defines engagement, Gallup claims that the most significant reason people are indifferent, stressed and miserable at work is because of the lack of meaningful conversations with their managers. They convene for obligatory contact. Some conversations inspire hope for the future, but then these same leaders make short-term decisions that destroy this hope.

Gallup only looked at the frequency of contact and the content of the communications that might increase engagement. Their study hinted at the importance of creating a deeper connection when they found that employees want their managers to be more open and approachable but they did not define what having a deeper connection meant or how it was achieved.

We all seek the freedom to be who we are in the company of others. This can’t be done with someone who is trying to fix you or make you feel empowered. Leaders talk about engagement but then focus on performance and results. This hinders engagement, creating what journalist Johan Hari calls parodies of connection where the humanity in the employee is invisible. The increasing sense of betrayal and indignity makes future attempts at connecting even harder.

The energy of real engagement

Being with people in a way that they enjoy the time together with you, they want to continue the relationship, and they want to give their best to achieving their goals as a result of the connection is based on one action – being totally and positively engaged in conversations. The energy exchange with you inspires them to passionately produce amazing results.

Intrinsic engagement requires leaders uplift the quality of their conversations.

As the mirror neurons sync with the emotions and intentions of the socially dominant person in a conversation (the leader or coach), the other person either opens up or shuts down. The person must feel trust, acceptance, and valued to fully engage and be open to growing. If the brain detects even a faint likelihood of injury from an unsafe or contrived conversation, it sends up the bullet-proof walls. The person then defends or retreats. Connection is lost.

Firing up a new source of power

The Latin translation for being alive is “being among men.” The joy we feel when we feel accepted and honored fills us with energy and a sense of significance. You don’t empower people by assigning them new tasks and decision-making authority. The sense of power comes from within, when people feel seen, cared about, and respected.

Leaders can be trained to embody curiosity, compassion, and respect so that conversations are meaningful and profound. These leaders create alive and engaged workplaces producing extraordinary results.

Start now. Consciously choosing to open yourself to another human requires courage and perseverance based on purpose. Lots of practice and good training will help. The next person you see, look them in the eye. Sense their desires and pain, seek to discover their hopes and fears, and feel their inherent goodness.

Let’s give each other the one thing we want more than anything else—to be seen. Then let’s have a new conversation about what engagement and empowerment really means.

My hope is that the current model of leadership where engagement and empowerment focuses on doing something for others evolves into a new model that is more soulful, meaningful, and productive. In this model, a personal sense of power is sparked from within through frequent, connected conversations.

When ideas flow because there is trust, empathy, mutual respect, and fun, companies stay robust and successful. The quality, not just frequency and content of our conversations, is the one thing that can change everything.

If you would like to have me speak at your upcoming event or talk about leadership training and coaching, please reach to me at:

Marcia Reynolds

tel:+1 602 954 9030


Want to read more about having meaningful, profound conversations? Check out my book, The Discomfort Zone. For more information on training in emotional intelligence and advanced coaching skills, contact me by email or call 1-602-954-9030.



  1. You are so right! We have medicines that cure our physical ailments, but only time and attention and “love” heals the soul – the very thing everyone craves! If more attention were given to those in our homes and workforces, far less time would be spent on – friction, confusion, and underperformance. Great article!

    • Thank you Mary Jane. It has taken me years to have the courage to focus my business on this, but it is truly my passion to bring these connections to the workplace.

  2. What a wonderful, thought-provoking article, Marcia. The implications for leaders and organizations during times of change are enormous. I find many organizations that start talking about engagement when change initiatives fail. Your perspective says “pay attention to meaningful engagement now if you want a change initiative to succeed in the future.” Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you Chris. You’re right that the relationships we build today pave the way for working through the chaos tomorrow. I appreciate your perspective and support.

  3. Marcia, your journey through illuminating this challenge is beautifully portrayed and fully explained. Only recently did I come to see that the key ingredient is, on so many levels, Being Valued. It begins with our own sense of self-worth, through how we feel valued by others we love and respect, to how we believe our co-workers, both above and below us in the hierarchy, evaluate us. I have often heard that there are only two important factors in life: love and fear, but I never fully got that until I saw that “valued” means, in effect and in some way, “loved.”

    • Lowell, I often refer to Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, where the power in our relationships depends on how we can hold the person we are with in the space of “thou.” The outcome depends on how much they feel we value them. And not just for the work they do, but who they are. I appreciate the work you are doing.

  4. Hi Marcia: a wonderful, thought-full and meaningful article…thank you!

    I have followed engagement stats and results/lack of for a number of years and I become so tired when I consider the number of organizations that pay no attention to engagement, let alone the importance of meaningful conversations. Does anyone else find it curious that businesses are so able to ignore the static engagement numbers? For dozens of years? That businesses don’t consider the lack of ROI with respect to payroll and those human resources? Numbers always seem to make the difference in business thought, but somehow the Gallup findings are ignored. Boggles my mind.

    Thanks so much for your article…I will pass it along and encourage its reading!

  5. Thanks for this Marcia. Reading this has reinvigorated in me the whole business of relationship. The quality and depth of relationships may vary, even worked on and improved. The dynamic of relationship be it with family, friends, work colleagues, even strangers and a higher power (some choose to refer to as God) is key to our very existence. Scottish philosopher, John Macmurray notes in his work “Persons In Relation” that the “Self exists only in dynamic relation with the Other.” To me, your writing fits hand in glove with Macmurray’s work. Leaders at all levels could truly benefit themselves and their organisations through delving into the quality of their relationship with those they work with. Thanks for stirring me on to revisit this.

    • John, thank you for a wonderful quote and resource. I also believe that we can only self-actualize when in dynamic relation with the Other, not as an individual achievement. There is so much richness in this conversation. I’m glad you will revisit it.

  6. Carol Damit says:

    What a sonderful article! I applaud all leaders who have the courage to hear this message and integrate it into their leadership lifestyle. And it did occur to me that at times throughout my career I have had to be my “own leader” when there were situations where connections with senior leadership simply didn’t exist. When you put yourself out there you open so many doors – good and sometimes not so good – but it’s well worth the effort in the long run. Thank you!

  7. You have brilliantly explained why I wrote “Talk Ain’t Cheap. It’s Priceless. Connecting in a Disconnected World.” Sadly, the very technology that is designed to bring us together actually tears us apart because it takes the place of real face-to -ace or at least ear-to-ear conversations. Emoticons are not emotions. Thanks for making us all remember. Now, there’s someone I need to go listen to:)

  8. This is very impressive Marcia,
    Employees really need a better connection with their employers. I’ve
    discovered that most organizations faces this same problem as well.

    In an organization where employers are not easily approachable and free to
    his employees, it usually drags the organization backwards because the
    employees will not be happy doing their work.

    Thanks for sharing.
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