Three Easy Ways to Build Meaningful Connection

As I’ve been talking with clients and colleagues in the early days of year two of the pandemic, I’ve been thinking a lot about content and connection.

Most of the leaders and team members I’m talking with are struggling with the volume of content they’re dealing with in their jobs. Too many meetings, too much texting and instant messaging, too many initiatives, too many emails. The mental, physical and emotional impact of too much content when jammed up against family obligations and self-care needs is real and can be severe.

At the same time, they’re suffering (and I do mean suffering) from not enough connection. You might ask how that can be with all of the interaction they’re having with others while trying to keep up with everything on their plates. It’s simple, really. Interaction isn’t the same thing as connection. Interaction is transactional engagement. Connection is transformational engagement. The first is about getting stuff done. The second is about lifting each other up. If dealing with the first is grinding you down and making you feel like a robotic drone, then you almost certainly need more of the second.

It might seem counterintuitive, but the research shows more connection can help in dealing with the demands of the content. First, there is more and more evidence that shows stronger social connections increase health, well-being and longevity by strengthening the immune system and reducing the prevalence and impact of chronic disease.  Second, people with strong social connections in their lives are generally happier and as a recent study out of Oxford University shows, happier people are significantly more productive. So, if you want or need to get more done in less time, you should invest some of your time into strengthening your connections with family, friends and colleagues.

Here are three ways to get more connection into your work and the rest of your life while we’re all still socially distant.

Practice small acts of kindness: You may have seen the news that former Secretary of State George Schultz passed away last weekend at age 100. In a New York Times remembrance of Schultz, his biographer Phillip Taubman wrote about how small acts of kindness informed Schultz’s long life and his approach to diplomacy. In one example, Taubman writes about Schultz’s first meeting with the new Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze at an international conference in 1985. The meeting was held in an amphitheater in Finland with delegates from 30 countries. Schultz was seated in the first row at the bottom of the theater. His Russian counterpart was seated in the last row at the top. After Schultz placed his papers at his seat, he deliberately walked up the stairs to the top of the theatre to greet Shevardnadze and shake his hand. Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and fell silent as they watched the moment that eventually led to negotiations that reduced the number of nuclear weapons in the world. Decades later, Taubman visited the aging and infirm Soviet leader at his home in Tbilisi, Georgia. Shevardnadze made it a point to show him a cherished stack of Christmas cards that Schultz and his wife had sent him over the years. If small acts of kindness can help change the world, they can almost certainly improve your own quality of life and that of those you live and work with. Build connection with others by practicing at least one small act of kindness each day.

Create and work from a “checking-in” list: Over the course of a day, many of us have a fleeting thought of someone and say to ourselves that we should really check in with them. And then, the moment passes and we’re on to the rest of our day and the check-in never happens. Most of the time, we don’t have the bandwidth to interrupt what we’re doing to check in but we do have the capacity to write down a reminder to check in later. Many of the best leaders I know and work with keep a running list of who they want to check in with and then spend a little time each day to check a couple of folks off the list by starting a text thread, sending a quick email or scheduling a short Zoom visit. It could be a family member, an old friend, a past colleague or a current co-worker. No expectation of a transaction or value exchange; just an opportunity for both parties to have a few moments of meaningful connection.

Make time for deeper and fresher questions: One thing I’ve learned from conducting hundreds of leadership workshops over the past couple of decades is that most people don’t need a ton of time to establish a personal connection with the people they work with. There have been many times when I’ve put leaders into breakout groups of 3 or 4 people and asked each of them to talk for a couple of minutes about something or someone in their life that they’re grateful for and why while the others listen to their story. I’ve regularly heard lots of appreciative laughter and seen tears of gratitude and joy in under five minutes. It’s easy for people to connect around a shared human experience like gratitude.

If you’re a team leader, you can create a similar space for your people to connect by setting aside ten minutes for breakouts of 3 or 4 people to talk about experiences they have in common. Gratitude is a great place to start and return to from time to time. For other connection conversation starters, the ninja level guides at Museum Hack offer these ideas:

  • What’s your favorite place of all the places you’ve travelled?
  • If you were immortal, what age would you choose to stop aging at and why?
  • What was the worst job you ever had?
  • If you could choose any two famous people to have dinner with who would they be?
  • If you could change places with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
  • If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?
  • If you could eliminate one thing from daily routine, what would it be and why?
  • What was your favorite game to play as a child?
  • What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
  • When you die, what do you want to be remembered for?

So, those are some of my ideas for building meaningful connection while remaining socially distant. What’s been working for you? If you’re reading this on LinkedIn, please share your ideas in a comment. If you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog, please email me at co*****@eb********.com.

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