It’s been a BIG year of (often highly charged conversations) focusing on what set many of us APART. So whether you’re thinking about how to bring a team closer together through or post WFH/lockdown, or how to bring a little more harmony to connections in general over the holiday season, I thought this week we’d do 7 ways to help close the gap and build greater connection through communication. Which, building upon last week, is 7 ways to improve the quality of our engagement and show that we're invested in building the connection.
1. Active listening:
To listen and take an active interest in what is going on in people’s lives is one of the simplest ways to show that you care and are interested to know more about the other.
What is active listening? It is the practice of bringing as much of your attention as you can to observing what verbal and non-verbal messages are being communicated to us by another, and then providing a short feedback summary to the person speaking, for the sake of clarifying that you’ve accurately interpreted what they were meaning to say and are both on the same page. The whole idea though is that we spend more of our time focusing on and listening to the other, rather than talking about ourselves or preparing for our next opportunity to talk. Whether we've been taught the technical term and process, i think, mostly, we know this. But when things get busy, life happens, or we need things done now, are we still making time to do it is a valid question? Investing our presence is foundational in encouraging engagement and closing the gaps of either unfamiliarity, or much time apart.
2. Ask more questions than we’re waiting for the opportunity to answer
To aid in our attempt to spend more time listening and information gathering, as well as to expand conversational possibilities, it also helps to ask more questions. And ask open questions at that. Ones that start with a "WHAT, WHERE, HOW WHEN, WHICH or WHO" and thus lead to a more extensive answer than just a single word response, like a yes or no. These open up all manner of conversational possibilities. Keeping the focus on them, and being genuinely curious to know more about them, while actively listening to their answers, also suggests that you’re genuinely interested or invested, when you want someone to know that you care.
3. Notice what lights them up, what they like and what is really important to them
Which you can then focus those above questions on further exploring in the here and now. Or then bring it up as a conversation starter at a later date. But either way, the basic premise of building rapport, interesting conversations and future engagement, is to follow the love. And start first with what they love.
If you know that you’re going to see them again but you're worried you'll forget the fine details, no stress. This is where you could use some form of note taking app/system (and or CRM program) to your advantage. Stick or record a short note in a notes app or diary, and then transfer, or have someone transfer it for you to their last touchpoint or notes in the CRM. So that you can come back to it for reference sake at a later date. For them, the bigger point is that we actually took the time to take note of what really matters most to them. In a world that is overly busy and time poor, taking the time to take note shows that you care and are invested, which is hugely impactful on its own in creating rapport and creating comfort for them to open up more in future.
4. Look for the things that you have in common and focus this or future conversations on those
One of the easiest things to drill further into, in the quest of building, or rebuilding rapport, is to ask questions about some of the things that you too are passionate about or interested in. If you’re struggling to find something, you can create a common interest or goal. Like, for example, suppose you both worked out that you’ve been getting slack on your gym routine or a daily walk. Or one of you just read about some new out-of-the-box hobby. Or there is a new book or podcast coming out, or an upcoming professional event or training related to something you’re both trying to achieve. Whatever it is, you can then use whatever it as a perfectly valid reason to touch base in future. (& indirectly, provide a sign of encouragement that you want there to BE a future.)
5. Give them a sincere compliment about something about them that you uncover that you admire
I keep saying it over and over because it is something that we both fear to do, for fear of being rejected in revealing the vulnerability of our true feelings and, at other times, might struggle to actually receive it ourselves for any number of reasons. BUT a reminder, there is research on what makes us perceive someone as likeable that shows that the people who are viewed as the most popular and likeable, are actually the people who are the best at seeing the good in others and verbally expressing it openly to the people they encounter. In the game of social reciprocity, leading with compliment love, tends to also lead to people endeavouring to return the favour. Not to mention, feeling safe to come closer and engage more.
6. Ask a question that elevates them
As an alternative to directly giving them a compliment, we could also ask them a question that gives them a chance to talk up something that they view as a past achievement. And then feel free to affirm/encourage/congratulate/admire/be impressed by their answer. By way of us having a positive response, and showing oneself to be an encourager, an uplifter and someone who is not threatened or intimidated by, but able to find happiness in the wins of others, this subtly affirms that the other party are safe to let their guard down and be themselves around us.
7. Own your B.S.
Have you noticed how the pandemic, at first, brought out the best in many people, but then, as the stress levels and demands rose and tolerance levels dropped, brought out the worst at others? Hurling your sh#t at others as a coping mechanism, I think, has become WAY too permissible this year. So, one of the best ways we can recreate a sense of interpersonal safety, and show them that it’s safe to connect from minute 1 of engagement/re-engagement, is to show others that we’re capable of self reflection, owning our own B.S. and processing it in healthy ways. Especially as Managers and Leaders, it's important that we lead by example in modelling HOW to deal with our stuff in healthy ways. Maybe by way of speaking up when we realise we messed up. Maybe by apologising in a moment where we offended or dropped the ball. Maybe by way of thanking people for being patient with us or a situation. Maybe by way of just naming the beast and affirming that you want to create a space that’s free of [insert undesirable behaviour] and values [insert relevant values or qualities]. However we do it, this builds trust and confidence in that it is safe to engage and invest further in our space and this connection.
All of these are practical ways we can build upon what we were talking about last week in being intentional about what we’re bringing to the space. Of being mindful of what energy we bring to the connection and how we would ideally want someone to feel after spending time with us. It’s a been a big year for needing to process some big emotions and responses and needing to find healthy ways to do that. But it’s also about being mindful of what percentage of our time we spend taking energy from others by asking the focus to be on our needs, verses what percentage of time we spend asking "how can I take an interest in, or give something to the other person here?"
With the right people, who are genuinely interested in building something together with us, so much of this is also about leading with your own investment, and then matching the other person's investment back with more investment. As dating Coach Matthew Hussey once put it, a bit like connection building tennis. While so much of this is about serving them something that they can return back, to close the gap and keep the interaction going, requires that we not miss it and stay present when they return. And stay present and keep going for the rally. In engagement tennis, if you start going for the solo win and ace one down the back left corner, or they to you, actually you lose a point, not gain one. Because ongoing engagement is all about the quality rally; the mutual win and progress. Master the rally and then make it interesting. Make sense?
Thanks so much for taking the time to read these this year. It's much appreciated. And here's hoping you have a happy, safe, fun and restful holiday break. Until next time....
P.S. What's on in 2022: If you would like to create more balance in living your leadership purpose, bring forward more of your unique leadership presence AND master the art of heart centred, authentic communication, so that you can succeed in making a greater positive impact through your work, dramatically improve the quality of connection and engagement with others, and create a working life they truly love, you might like to check out our new programs for early 2022:
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When it comes to connecting with others and projecting an energy that makes them feel safe, welcome and sincerely excited to be around us, the intentions we hold and thoughts we are thinking about people matter way more than we might think. When someone thinks the world of us and is beaming love and gratitude about us, at us, we feel it.
Just as we can feel it when someone is looking right at us, but using the masterful, biological supercomputer between their ears to judge us, to try and process how they are triggered by us, to put us in a mental box based on what they know about the world, or to look for faults in our physical appearance, as much as physical features to compliment. Or dare I say it, in terms of our secret inner biochemistry, get a hit of dopamine or oxytocin off, or not. Which is why the thoughts that we think about others and the energy that we send in their direction is so important when it comes to relating well with others.
If we are to be relatable, likeable and influential leaders and communicators, around whom others feel safe, retraining ourselves to look and feel for what we love about people and appreciate what makes them unique is such an important skill to master. It makes a huge difference between us becoming someone at work and in life that people feel comfortable to approach and want to spend a whole lot of time around, and happily work with and for. Or us becoming someone that, they can’t quite put their finger on why, but they just feel like sh#t when they’re around us and might start feeling like they need to manage how much time they spend with us.
The importance of taking the time to feel and see the inner beauty and uniqueness of what makes someone truly unique on the inside, as opposed to just the outside, was imprinted upon me very young. Yesterday was the anniversary of the day my Mum died. One of the memories that often sticks with me from that day, was the moment that we arrived to be standing or sitting at the end of her hospital bed, 5 minutes after she had just passed. One of the things that absolutely struck me in that moment was that, for how incredibly, advanced, intricate and beautiful this biological machine is that we call a body, suddenly it seems “screen door in a submarine” level redundant when you realise, in the total absence of this person you loved so much's energy, and their essence any longer lighting up their body in that moment, that it's not the vessel at all that you loved and were so attached to. It was the beauty and magnificence, and the thousands of unique intricacies and qualities of the consciousness, the presence, the personality that was them, lighting it up from the inside, that really mattered. That we were truly connected to and truly loved.
And from that moment onwards, when it came to relating with others, I became far less interested in people’s physical appearances and the intricacies of daily dramas and trivialities, and made it one of my missions (i don't always win) to always do my best to look and feel for who was on the inside. (That, and to try and make the most of each and every opportunity I have with someone, to appreciate the preciousness of that unique moment in time and show up fully for it. Knowing that, at any given moment, for any number of reasons, that person in front of you, might, one day, never be there again. And you might never get another chance.) So how can we do our best to get over our human “stuff” and show up for those moments?
I was watching an Eckhart Tolle interview on Youtube last week, in which he mentioned the analogy of how, from the moment you teach a child that a bird is a bird, the child stops seeing the bird. In other words, up until that moment, the child was experiencing the bird live in real-time in the moment. Feeling, seeing, hearing, experiencing the bird as it actually is, and drawing conclusions for themselves. But, the moment you implant a mental construct of what a bird is into their consciousness as learning, they stop experiencing the bird live, and start projecting onto the bird, a construct of who and what the bird is. Instead of experiencing and connecting with the bird itself, live in the moment.
This is a shame, because then we stop really connecting with the actual bird, and start engaging instead with, almost like a holographic image that the movie projectors in our eyes, projected onto the space about 1cm directly in front of the bird. That obscures us from seeing the real bird. Which, If we’re not careful, we can then mistake as the bird, and then start spending our lives engaging with and conversing with the projection image in front of the bird. Instead of with the bird.
How often in life do you think we are also doing this with other people? With what we’ve learned about who they are and how they work, instead of looking and feeling for who they actually really ARE, live in the moment, 1cm behind our projection? How often are we really looking for and relating with the real THEM, as opposed to having a conversation and playing out our “stuff” with the projection we lay in front of them, instead of relating with who they actually are? Is it just me, or when you realise that this is what we might often be doing, does it suddenly seem a bit “nuts” to be spending our time relating with "fake them?" While, meanwhile, the whole time the actual person is waiting RIGHT THERE for us to show up and engage with actual THEM?
If we want to be better leaders, better partners, better friends, better students, teachers, employers, employees, be better at what we DO, maybe we need to stop “projaculating” our mental projections all over them. And start seeing, feeling for, and engaging with who they really ARE, live in the moment. THAT is where the gold of engagement and true connection lies. And it’s not some form of “toxic positivity” to look for the love and cultivate appreciation in the process, for ALL that they are. I think it’s reconnecting with the highest, soulful potential of who we really are and what we are really capable of, when we relate from that place of authenticity, in the NOW. And the benefits and flow-on effects of us doing so, are vast.
Until next time….
Nat talks about Self Expression, Heart Centred Communication and Lifestyle for Leaders.