A recent study by Kaiser showed that breast cancer survivors with supportive social connections had improved survival rates. This shouldn’t be a surprise given years of research into early childhood development and what helps children to thrive. Positive, supportive relationships play a critical role in a child’s ability to learn and grow.
Connection is one of my highest values. We cannot be successful in life without connecting with others in a way that enhances our lives and theirs. As much as we might like to see ourselves as independent individuals, we are not capable of producing everything we need on our own in a sustainable way—and why would we want to?
How Do We Connect With Others?
1. Listen. Listening is one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox. Others feel heard and valued when we are fully present and paying attention. We do so by not only listening to the words but also to other cues such as tone of voice, choice of words, speaking speed, and body language.
2. Reflect. When you reiterate some of what you heard, the person speaking to you knows you listened. If a co-worker shares that they’re having a hard day, for example, because of back pain, you might say, “I’m sorry to hear your back is bothering you.”
3. Don’t assume. Nothing can create disconnection faster than assuming you know what the other person is going through. Even if you’ve been through a similar challenge, we are all unique. We discredit someone else’s experience if we assume we know exactly what they are going through.
4. Ask. Ask the question that provides the most support and the best opportunity for creating a solution, building a relationship, and connecting with someone on a deeper level. Ask, “How can I help?”
Sometimes, I get pushback regarding the idea of asking how you can help. Most, if not all people usually want to help. At the same time, they often quickly go into checking their own to do list and schedule, sometimes even panicking at the thought that the person they want to help may assign them a time-consuming task. Ask this question knowing you have the right to say what you can and cannot take on.
If we come at this with black-and-white thinking, it won’t feel as good to us or to the person needing the help. You may or may not be able to help. If you can, you will. If you can’t, you’ll simply help them consider other ways they might get the help they need. You may be the sounding board that helps them come up with a solution that doesn’t involve you solving things.
Give yourself permission to let others know what you can and cannot do. You’ll create a better connection if you are honest and express any limitations you have. You’ll make a bigger contribution if you help them brainstorm other ways to get their need met and they may discover resources in their network they hadn’t thought of before.
And don’t forget to seek out a supportive network where you are listened to and heard. Establishing a connection doesn’t mean you are expected to do everything on your own. Sometimes the message about moving into adulthood and becoming independent gets misinterpreted as having to do everything for yourself.
So much less is possible if we try to do everything on our own. Think about beach communities that do clean up days. In one day, everyone pitches in and gets the job done. If people were to go out on their own, it would be hard to notice a difference. Think about the Habitat for Humanity model. Concentrated effort by a group of people committed to the same vision and contributing their unique skills by connecting on a project creates incredible outcomes.
What would be possible for you if you felt more connected to yourself, your coworkers, and the people in your personal life?