con·nec·tion | \ kə-ˈnek-shən
\ Merriam-Webster’s Definition of connection \
1 : the act of connecting : the state of being connected
2 : something that connects
3 : a person connected with another especially by marriage, kinship, or common interest
4 : a political, social, professional, or commercial relationship
5 : a set of persons associated together
I have a friend who teases me incessantly about how many people I know through a multitude of connections. We laugh and she says it’s true while I try to diminish that it might, in fact, actually be so. I explain it away because I’ve lived in several places across our province for long periods of time, so for me it makes sense that I’m going to know some people. Connections explained.
Not so fast, chipmunk.
In my early 20’s I taught a self-improvement course to teenaged girls. Required reading and basically the textbook for the course was Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People. I would say it’s one of the most influential guides to my life, reading and teaching from that book. Originally published in 1936, its principles continue their relevance when it comes to human connection and I highly recommend that it get on your reading list if it’s not already part of your library!
Relating to others may not always come easy but it can be learned. People I’ve run into who knew me as a teenager remember me as shy and introverted. I certainly don’t remember myself that way, I thought I was a “loudmouthed schnook” (think Foghorn Leghorn from Looney Tunes). I just looked up the definition of “schnook” : a stupid or unimportant person. So, a loudmouthed, stupid and unimportant teenager, that’s how I labelled myself!
The reality is, whether we are quiet, introverted, loud, gregarious, we can all learn or improve skills that allow us to truly connect with our fellow humans. We do have to live on this planet together after all. Something you will often hear me say is that we are created for connection, not disconnection.
One question to ask when we’re feeling “off” is where are we disconnected? Who or what can you reconnect with?
- Your others?
For me it can be as simple as asking my kids for a hug, or checking in on someone I care about. We can’t assume that others will recognize our need, nor can they read our minds.
So then, how do we make others feel important, valued, or appreciated, without being disingenuous? When you’re in the middle of a room and you aren’t sure where to start or how to connect with anyone, it can be a daunting undertaking.
Get more interested in what others are interested in than getting them interested in you. That right there is the golden nugget. Have an arsenal of questions, be curious, show you care. How are you showing up? It may take practice if you’re used to being the talker or attention-seeker.
Something that has helped me through the years is knowing a little about a lot. Do I love golf or football? Not really, but I will watch or pay attention to names and standings, so that I can carry on a conversation. I make a point of knowing what’s going on in our world so that I can find ways to relate to people when I meet them. It’s sometimes smirk-satisfying to see their surprize that I can engage in conversation.
When you ask a question, let them answer, with the intent to hear and absorb what the other is saying. Don’t lie in wait for your turn to speak or share how you did the same thing, thereby one-upping them. It doesn’t matter that you fully relate or have been through the identical experience. They are sharing a part of themselves with you, so shush your mouth and don’t take over the conversation because you somehow think you’re connecting with them. Unless of course, you want to alienate yourself from them, then go for it.
Connect on their level. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If they so much as get a sniff that you are only in it for yourself, there will be no real or deep abiding in that relationship.
Eye contact. It matters. I’ve been told this is one of my strengths and it is a major factor in how to connect with fellow humans, so when someone recently told me that I wouldn’t look them in the eyes I was stunned. I had to really look within and ask myself why that might be. Was it their over-sensitivity or was I avoiding something? In the end it doesn’t really matter because we don’t get to tell another person how to feel or what they actually experienced. We can only own our own piece of it, learn from it, let it go, and carry on.
Remove distractions. Put your phone down. Or your screen. Let the person in front of you know you are present and that you value their presence. They matter. So many of us use our devices for work now, so it can be tricky when you’re on the job. However, for those of us who remember the good ol’ days when phones were attached to the wall, I’m pretty sure it was a rare occasion to be having a conversation with someone face-to-face while you were also on your phone.
When I first moved to Calgary as a single parent, I desperately missed my people and it was in the early days of social media, more specifically, Facebook. I lived for the connection I found there because I could keep up with everyone easily, while not spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone. Unfortunately, my kids suffered as a result for a period of time, because I wasn’t always fully present with them. It filled a void for me but created one for them. It took some time for me to see that, and while devices abound in our house, I think we’ve all come to terms with the importance of eye contact and the value of face-to-face interaction.
In an age of unprecedented distraction, be that one who will not let it disrupt your in- person interactions and relationships. Work at it, be mindful of it.
What was the original definition of connection? The act of connecting.
Be Connection. Live Connected.