Connection with other people is one of the most important aspects of life, but when you’re not connecting, it can be hard to figure out what’s going wrong. Whether it’s with friends, family members, co-workers, or kids, the following five steps will help you quickly move from feeling isolated and disconnected to being able to create deep and meaningful connections no matter who’s in front of you.
1 Breathe, relax and find your center
One of the things I notice when I’m feeling disconnected from others is that I’m usually also feeling sad, anxious, or angry. The reason I’m disconnected is because I’ve been avoiding the natural connection that is easily available when I’m present and enjoying life.
So, the first thing to do when you find yourself out of sorts is to stop, take some deep breaths, and notice what’s going on inside of you. When we can tune in to our own emotional world, or physical sensations in our bodies, or anxiety-producing thoughts that keep swirling in our minds, we’re much better able to put those thoughts, feelings or sensations into perspective. Rather than determining our experience, these things are simply a part of our experience and can be either dealt with in the moment or put aside until later, allowing us to be more present and available for connection.
After tuning in, it’s much easier to “find your center” or discover your unmoving sense of self. For instance, when I’m feeling sad, I disconnect and sulk, but when I notice I’m feeling sad, I’m able to say to myself, “I’m feeling sad right now, but I am not my sadness. I am generally a joyful person who cares a lot about others. My kind and loving heart is the core of who I am.” Ahhh, that feels MUCH better.
2 Make eye contact
Now that you’ve discovered what’s happening with you that has been keeping you away from connection with others, it’s time to make yourself more available by making eye contact. When we avoid connection, we often avoid eye contact. That’s because the eyes really are like windows to the soul.
When we make eye contact, a LOT of information is transmitted from one person to another. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of looking into someone’s eyes and suddenly thinking, “I know exactly how this person is feeling.” Sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong, but by making eye contact we make our selves vulnerable and available in a way that we just aren’t when we look down or away.
If you find extended eye contact difficult, go back to step one, breathe, relax, and tune in to your own thoughts and feelings and then when you’re ready to connect again, resume eye contact. Sometimes just taking a deep breath is enough to help me relax enough to maintain eye contact.
One more thing about eye contact: don’t try to look at both eyes at once or to give each eye equal time. Instead, just decide to look into one eye without shifting your gaze. I usually use the left eye, but that’s just my personal preference. By choosing one eye and maintaining steady but relaxed eye contact, the other person knows that you’re available and ready to connect.
3 Tune in and practice empathy
Now put your attention on the other person. Really take a moment to stop thinking about what you’re about to say or where you’re headed next, or what the other person is thinking about you and actually pay attention to the person across from you. Get curious about what the other person is experiencing. Is she feeling sad, hurt, or happy? Is he distracted by the television in the room? Does the energy of the conversation seem to change when he talks about his dad?
By noticing some of the subtle shifts in the conversation and then checking in about them, you can quickly move from small talk into a deeper connection. For example, perhaps you and a co-worker are talking about the weather:
Y: “Wow, it’s freezing out there! The wind is really blowing!”
T: “I know! I almost slipped on some ice on my way to work this morning. It’s a good thing my mom isn’t planning on running any errands today. She broke her hip last winter.”
Y: “You know, I could really feel how much you care about and want to protect your mom when you shared that. Was it a bad break?”
T: “Yeah, it took months to heal and definitely took a toll on the whole family. We’re used to Mom taking care of us, not the other way around.”
Y: “I bet it’s scary to see the tables turning as your parents get older. I’m going through that too, and it’s so disconcerting to see my parents need more and more help as they age. I wish they could stay young and healthy forever.”
4 Appreciate and enjoy
Now that you’ve connected and empathized, make sure to keep things moving in a positive direction. You want to connect, but you don’t want to see this person in the hall a few days later and think about what a dark, heavy conversation you had. Instead, you want to leave the other person feeling appreciated and remembering what an enjoyable conversation it was.
Even dark or heavy topics can still feel enjoyable if you practice appreciation during the conversation. Take the above example, can you see where Y was appreciating and enjoying T’s love for his mom?
When we can genuinely appreciate and enjoy the person we’re connecting with, they feel seen and accepted and want to continue to connect further.
If you’re having trouble enjoying a particular person, just try to find one thing to appreciate about them in that moment. Maybe their hair smells nice, or you like their smile, or the sound of their voice reminds you of your favorite uncle. By focusing on the thing you enjoy, your appreciation will come through naturally without additional effort on your part.
5 Lighten up
One of the pitfalls of wanting deeper connection with people is that we can get stuck in a mode of thinking that “deeper connection” has to look and feel a certain way. Let me assure you, it doesn’t. When we can let go of any attachments we might have to a conversation going a certain way, and simply enjoy where it’s going organically, we take the pressure off and allow for much more fun and connection.
And, by showing that you’re not dead set on discovering their deepest darkest secret or uncovering some childhood trauma, you’re inviting a level of openness and vulnerability that the other person is comfortable with. That will ultimately lead to more spontaneous sharing that is much more likely to result to an ongoing deepening of connection.
Having fun is a great way to connect with others and it’s a wonderful indicator of whether you’ll want to continue this connection into the future. If it’s no fun, you probably won’t want to do it again.
So, those are my five steps to connect more deeply with anyone and everyone. I would love to know your thoughts, please share a story or comment below.
And have a fabulous day, Shelly