“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”~ Brene Brown
When I was a teenager, I was generally an angry and competitive person. For some weird reason, I thought one-upmanship and showing that I was better than others academically would get them to like me. Wasn’t I disappointed when that didn’t turn out to be the case! No amount of great grades made others like me more. Perhaps I got some admiration (mostly envy, actually) for a short time, but that was about as far as it went. When I was 17, I knew that I’d blown it. I needed to become likable. To that end, I started reading books such as How to win friends and influence people, How to stop worrying and start living, The magic of thinking big, The power of positive thinking, and Success through a positive mental attitude. I started attending Toastmasters club meetings to improve my communication skills. I dug into psychology to understand my personality type and what my natural way of communicating was.
I had a long learning curve. I made a lot of blunders along the way such as going to the other extreme and being an ass-kisser and pushover. But over time, I learned to calibrate and things definitely started to look good. Of course, I’m still learning and bound to find that I’m in a much better place 10 years from now. However, the journey of the last 13 years taught me a few things that I find work very well for me. They are the ‘golden rules’ which have become my cornerstones for creating a connection with others.
Let others know if they helped you in some way
Whether someone helped me consciously or unconsciously, I make it a point to let them know that they did. There’s something deeply embedded in the human psyche that makes it gratifying to be of service to others. I love it when someone tells me that something I did or shared was useful to them (that’s a hint and a half to leave a comment if something I say on this blog helps you! That would really make my day!). So I figured that would be true the other way around too. Expressing appreciation and gratitude is a great connection builder. It’s from the heart, genuine, and full of positive energy.
The best lesson I learnt on the power of encouragement was on top Mt Kilimanjaro. The highest point atop Kili is called Uhuru. When you’re climbing the mountain, you reach a place called Stella point from where you have to walk another 45 minutes to reach Uhuru. While the terrain isn’t hard to traverse, those 45 minutes are the hardest you experience because you’re so exhausted by the time you reach Stella point.
What kept me going was words of encouragement from other trekkers that were on their way back from Uhuru. As I dragged myself one foot after another, I met with an encouraging word, smile or pat on the back. When you are in such low spirits mentally and physically, encouragement is like that spark that keeps the embers burning. When I reached Uhuru with my bones screaming and heart filled with gratitude, I resolved to encourage those that I met on my way back.
I’ve learnt that the smallest word of encouragement goes a long way. A ‘you got this’ or even a ‘good luck’ can build a bond.
Learn to accept a compliment
I used to have a really hard time taking a compliment. Someone would congratulate me on accomplishing something or even looking pretty and I’d downplay it every time. One day, when I was 19, I met a teacher who noticed me waving off a compliment I received for winning a particular competition, feeling awkward. She shared this with me and said, “Learn to accept a compliment. We Indians are particularly bad at it. We either don’t believe that we deserve it or think that we wouldn’t be showing humility if we accepted it. All of that is rubbish. When someone gives you a compliment, learn to smile and say, ‘thank you'”. As soon as I started doing this, I was able to build a rapport with the other person because I received that which they gave me. There’s something about receiving that opens up the heart and connects people.
I used to be super anxious around people. I would wonder what to say to them, how to talk to them, how to make an impression, etc. I soon learnt that the answer to all this was to be genuinely curious about the other person and what they were sharing. When I stayed curious and asked questions, I forgot myself and that’s when the connection happened. I got out of my own head and way and was able to converse naturally. I also listened a lot better and learned so much about the other person. You can’t help but feel warm towards a person who is genuinely interested in what you’re sharing. In fact, I’d say there’s no greater compliment you can offer than a keen ear and an open heart.
Kindness has a way of building deep connections that few other things equal. You always remember it when someone has been kind to you. Once I was having a particularly hard day emotionally. A colleague noticed it, asked me what was wrong, and took me out for a walk as I shared what I was going through. I’ll always be grateful to him. On yet another occasion, a friend offered to drive me home from work when he noticed that I was feeling unwell despite having a super busy schedule. Sometimes, kindness is shown in subtler ways. For eg., refraining from using harsh words or shaming someone even when it seems fair is showing kindness. When you do a kindness, you show that you care. Caring automatically fosters connection.
Be a giver
Giving can be in a number of ways. It could be doing something for a community. It could be going out of the way while working on a team project. It could be reaching out to share something or ask if someone needs help. I read a great book a while ago called The Go-Giver. I’d highly encourage you to read it. When you recognize someone as a giver, you develop respect as well as a warmth towards that person. It builds connection.
There’s something deeply life-giving about connecting with others. I’d encourage you to try consciously developing a genuine connection with others. John Maxwell sums it up well in this quote:
“Think back to the most important experiences of your life, the highest highs, the greatest victories, the most daunting obstacles overcome. How many happened to you alone? I bet there are very few. When you understand that being connected to others is one of life’s greatest joys, you realize that life’s best comes when you initiate and invest in solid relationships.”~ John C. Maxwell