Ralph was puzzled. While he struggled with social connection his whole life, he was making a conscious effort to be different now. Yet, the harder he tried to connect with his wife, kids, co-workers, and friends, the worse things got. The more he tried to “be real” by openly sharing his thoughts and feelings the more distant others became. His attempt at sharing his thoughts about how to improve his daughter’s art project was disastrous. This only encouraged him to withdraw even further and give up on his chances of connectivity.
But there is an art form to connecting with others. It is not just about sharing what you feel or think; rather it is about engaging others into a conversation that is a two-way street where both parties are fully involved. This allows everyone to be more open and transparent which can deepen any relationship, even ones that have been strained in the past. How is this done?
It begins by rehearsing ahead of time. The best discussions that lead to the true connectivity require intentional planning. Even though the process might not happen exactly as predicted, having a direction keeps things on track especially when there are periods of awkward silence. So Ralph spent a few minutes thinking through these 10 questions before he began to speak to his daughter. The results were amazing.
- How do you want them to think or feel? Begin every attempt at connecting with others with an intentional thought or feeling that you would like the other person to have. Ralph, for instance, wanted his daughter to think he was interested in her life and wanted her to feel like he cared. This simple act changed his opening tone, attitude, and style to something more inviting and approachable.
- What do you want you to think or feel? Likewise, it is equally important that you know what you want to think or feel after connecting with others. Once Ralph thought about it, he realized that he wanted to think that he mattered and to feel attached to his daughter. This softened his approach with her even further.
- What is happening right now? Take a moment to observe the current environment (what are the physical surroundings), circumstances (are they engaged with others or doing something already), body language (is it inviting or closed off), and other potential problems (they are in a hurry or something is about to happen). Don’t walk into a situation where the other person is already deeply engaged and demand full attention. Rather, wait for a break and plan the timing when things are not so stressful.
- How can you engage in this? Use the information gathered above to make an opening statement. If you must engage during a stressful time, say, “I see that a lot is happening right now, do you have a moment?” This is far more polite that ignoring the environment and making an assumption that someone must pay attention to you just because you walked into the room. If you have more flexibility on the timing, ask a question about the environment such as, “That is a beautiful art project you are working on, what inspired you?”
- What do you share? Next, try to find some common ground between you. Perhaps you did a similar piece of art. Be careful in this moment however that you don’t come across as trying to one-up the other person or compete in any fashion. This is an immediate turn off and will cause others to not want to engage any further. Ralph frequently made this error. In his effort to connect with his daughter, he would talk too much about his artwork which caused her to view him as self-serving. Instead, use one simple sentence to demonstrate commonality.
- How can you encourage them? This is a key point that must not be ignored. Without this simple step, all connectivity is lost. Encouraging another person requires some awareness of the strengths, talents, gifts, and contributions that they make. By saying, “Your artwork is so amazing, you are so talented,” Ralph was able to soften his daughter. This resulted in his daughter being more willing to listen to what Ralph was saying.
- What help can you offer? At this point, Ralph’s daughter was more open to listening to his input. However, it is very important that you ask permission to give any advice before you do it. If you don’t ask for permission, the other person might take offense no matter how well all of the other steps were conducted. It’s as simple as, “Do you want to know what I think?” A “Yes,” is an open invitation to give feedback. Whereas a “No,” is not. Respect the “No” and there will be more yesses.
- What do you want to accomplish? For Ralph, he wanted his daughter to learn a new technique that could improve her art project. After getting permission and making the suggestion to use the new technique, Ralph then proposed that they attend an art class together. This accomplished several things: they had discovered a shared common interest, they were now working on it together, and they had started a bond that would last a lifetime. This is exactly what Ralph was hoping for in the beginning.
- When do you want it done? Unfortunately, many good ideas or plans are lost due to a lack of some sort of deadline. The idea of taking an art class together is wonderful but if it never happens then all connection that was gained is lost again. To that end, Ralph set a deadline of finding and starting the art class within a month. Make sure that you set a time table for accomplishing whatever was agreed up even if that time is a false target.
- How can you deepen the conversation? This is an extra step that adds some type of perk for all of the effort taken in the above steps. For Ralph, he decided to suggest that after their art class, they go to an art supply shop and buy some new tools. This is an extra added benefit that is helpful to both parties and often serves a good reminder of their on-going improved connection.
Even in the simple conversations, connectivity can be improved by utilizing these 10 steps. The more Ralph did these steps, the more natural and fluid they became. Eventually, he was able to improve nearly every personal relationship in his life.