Meaningful Human Connection is Our New Competitive Advantage
Pandemics don’t change our identity, they reveal it.
After two years of living in isolation, our universal reveal has been that human connection isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. The idea of being in a room full of people, without masks or a worry of contracting COVID seems like a faint memory.
The choreography of how we connect has shifted from conversations of convenience at the watercooler, to staring at each other through cameras and screens. In many ways, we’ve been in a constant state of grief over the loss of the way we used to live our lives. As a result, our social skills have atrophied, yet our need to connect in meaningful ways has never been greater.
Whether you are attracting or retaining talent, or attempting to create new business relationships, how can we engage with our clients and teams to give them a meaningful interaction, instead of settling for empty and emotionless video calls? As we look ahead to being back together, if we want to thrive in 2022 and beyond, a vital task will involve alleviating that sense of disconnection.
Here are five ways to intentionally connect with your customers, your clients and your teams:
1. Creation Over Consumption
The late pioneer of loneliness research Dr. John Cacioppo outlined the simple solution of how we can overcome loneliness and isolation.
Create more face-to face-interaction. In person, or using video, like we’re doing right here. I invite you to look at your relationship with technology and ask yourself, how can I create more and consume less?
How can we get intentional and use technology and social media to create more positive face-to-face interactions, where we are seeing people, feeling their emotion and connecting consistently.
Even if it’s for 10 minutes a day, instead of getting caught in the trap of social consumption where we are mindlessly scrolling social media feeds, dropping an occasional like and comparing our level of happiness to other people, to the point it starts to make us feel insecure, inadequate and even more isolated.
Be more intentional and surprise and delight your teams with a video message instead of an emotionless text or email. The more consistent we are with this, the more trust we will build.
2. Listen Without Distraction
How can we say less, ask more and unlock something real, raw and candid from the person in front of us. It starts with listening without distraction. Research shows our brains can absorb 400-500 words per minute, yet the average person speaks at a rate of 125 words per minute. We are too smart for our own good! That’s why it’s easy for us to get caught in the trap of multitasking, daydreaming, getting distracted by our devices or even our own emotions when we disagree with someone and shut ourselves off.
The first step in becoming a better listener is auditing ourselves and recognizing the distractions that are pulling us away from giving someone our undivided attention. When we discover them, pick them off one by one so we can be as present as possible for the person in front of us.
Look at You is Greater Than Look at Me
There are two parts to this mindset. Part one is truly understanding the person you may be meeting, pitching or simply wanting to connect with. Look for clues about their career, relationships and health.
You can find these points by looking through their social media handles–experiences they’ve had, milestones they’ve hit or new passion projects they are creating. Maybe they’ve got an insightful blog or write a regular column–look for their impactful stories that you can reference and explore their lessons learned.
Given the era we’re living in now, check out interviews they’ve done online–this could be videos on YouTube or even just listening to 10-15 minutes of a podcast they were on. If you’re able to jumpstart your conversation by prioritizing their priorities, you will have them on your side right out of the gate.
Part two of this idea involves asking reflective questions–Asking, what, why and how questions– What did it feel like to quit your job? How did you challenge yourself during the pandemic? Why do you love what you do? Leading with an ‘ask, don’t tell’ approach, using ‘what, why and how’ questions, encourages the person in front of you to reflect on what they’ve experienced and what they have learned. Once that person realizes the work you’ve done to learn about them, they’ll be motivated to reciprocate the attention by putting the spotlight back on you, taking your conversation and connection to deeper levels.
Document Uncommon Commonalities
Keep a beginner’s mindset that everyone we meet has something to teach us. You could light them up by asking this: “Do you mind if I take notes?” This question is the biggest compliment we can give someone, so they feel that we are listening and that their words are meaningful.
Use pen and paper, so you don’t look distracted by your phone. Once you build up your concentration and focus, as soon as you’re done the conversation, take a moment and document the top three most powerful things they shared with you.
Maybe there was a unique commonality you shared about a love for animals, sports or something about their company culture. If you’re able to specifically reference an uncommon commonality from your conversation, when you reach out weeks, months or even years later, you will blow them away by showcasing how you listened to them and were impacted by their words. In fact, if they say this next sentence, you’ll know you’ve earned their respect and trust–“I can’t believe you remembered that.”
If we want to build trust in our relationships, put aside your perfect persona and go first.
A few years back I had the chance to connect with thought leader Darren Hardy, former publisher of Success magazine and now a successful mentor to many CEOs around the world. He’s interviewed some of the biggest leaders in the world.
I asked him point blank–what is the secret to having people open up in conversations?
He gave me two words ‘go first’.
He said, if you want someone to share something raw, authentic and vulnerable, show them that it’s a safe space by going first with something extraordinary that’s happened in your life, that’s honest and real. It’ll invite them to do the exact same thing.
Consider new employees or clients that are anxious about being onboarded in the virtual world, they can feel awkward and disconnected in this medium. Yet, if they see you as a point of authority and you go first by sharing your personal struggles of your first day on the job, you’ll make those new recruits feel safe by giving them a sense of relief about their potential challenges.
In our remote reality, if we can remember to be as human as possible in our conversations, courageously reveal our struggles and create a safe space for others to share, watch the conversations go deeper and how intentional human connection will quickly become our new competitive advantage.
Riaz Meghji is a human connection keynote speaker and author of the book Every Conversation Counts: The 5 Habits of Human Connection That Build Extraordinary Relationships. He will be speaking at the HR Conference & Expo in Vancouver B.C., April 26-27 and online, May 4-5.
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