“Do you want me to superglue myself to her? I don’t get all the connection stuff you are talking about!“
Although his comment made me smile, it saddened my heart to note once again, as occurs often in my office, that a connection is a real challenge for so many. Connection is the essence of love, and the cornerstone for relationships.
Research has clearly revealed that lack of connection creates major health challenges (depression, anxiety, greater risk of heart disease and cancer). Although I share that with multiple clients in a typical week, it doesn’t seem to register.
What seems to register most is when people learn that lack of connection causes love in relationships to fade away. Research indicates that in relationships where people rate the connection as low or a major problem; there is a 70% greater chance of divorce or break up.
Normally people show up in my office when the love has faded, or the relationship is totally on the rocks. More than 90% of the time when a relationship is reported to be fading away, a major component at the foundation is lack of connection. We all need connection.
Although it’s not a new word to any of our vocabulary, what it actually means, and how to achieve it is often at question.
What is connection? It has been defined as:
- An exchange between people who are paying attention to one another. It has the power to deepen the moment, inspire change and build trust.
- The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
More and more people are writing about connection as seen in some of the quotes below.
Connect. Embrace. Liberate. Love somebody. Just one person. And then spread that to two. And as many as you can. You’ll see the difference it makes.
The area where we are the greatest is the area in which we inspire, encourage and connect with another human being.
“Never underestimate the empowering effect of human connection.
All you need is that one person, who understands you completely, believes in you and makes you feel loved for what you are, to enable you – to unfold the miraculous YOU.”
Humans are born wired for connection – it’s in our DNA, as strong a need as food, water and warmth.
The reason people try to fake their way into being liked is that they confuse attention for connection—and they are not the same thing.
I believe the key question is, how do we connect? These are seven of the things that I typically share when helping clients learn to connect:
1. Be present. Be in the moment.
Turn off your cell phone. Yes, off! The temptation is too great.
Turn off all other media. Televisions, audio (unless it’s sweet music that you both love), beepers (if you still own one), alarms, home phone, anything that could or would distract you.
If you’re reading the newspaper or a book, move it!
Then turn off everything else going on in your head or heart, unless you intend to speak about them. Real connection does not occur when you’re talking about the weather, your grocery list, or anything else that does not contain meaning and the opportunity to connect.
Being present means you come prepared to connect. With some things going on in your life, with some questions to ask. However, connection goes deeper than data-related things.
To show you are present, position yourself in a manner that promotes eye contact. Dr. Martha Welch, the Director at Columbia Nurture Science Program emphasizes the importance of eye contact and connection:
The eyes are the windows to the soul. Through them, we can’t help but share our innermost feelings with each other. Incorporating more eye contact into your emotional expression will have profound effects on your wellbeing, and your ability to engage in meaningful emotional exchange with others. Connecting is a step towards building a world of empathy, cooperation, and reciprocity. Open your windows.
Yes! Open your windows and be present!
2. Listen with your heart and ask related questions.
I believe there’s a huge difference between listening with your ears and listening with your heart. Listening with your ears is about gathering data and assimilating your response.
Listening with your heart is about listening for tone, watching body language and facial expression, and attempting to experience where the person sharing is coming from. (Since language is only 20% of communication, listening with the heart is listening for the 80% along with the 20%)!
Recently in my office, I was coaching a couple through listening with the heart. She was sharing with him the disappointment she was feeling because his sister was no longer returning her texts.
As is common, he was listening with his ears. His response was: “Oh she’s one of those people who never keeps up with her cell phone. She may lay it down and find it three days later.“
I told him he did a great job of listening with his ears, but asked him to note the 80% she was sharing. As I asked him questions, he could tap into the 80%.
My Q (Question): What was the tone in her voice?
His A (Answer): Soft?
My Q: Where were her eyes?
His A: Looking down?
My Q: What was the expression on her face?
His A: Maybe a little fear, maybe sadness?
My Q: What was her body language?
His A: Like she was a little bit down?
I commented that he had answered my questions with questions. And perhaps he could have asked her those questions in order to connect. Like: “The way you were looking down, and your shoulders seemed to look like a heavy weight was on them, kind of looks like you are very upset. Are you?”
The moment I said that her tears began to flow. Why? Because the question was a question that elicited connection.
Noting more than a person’s words creates connection. Learn to listen with your heart! (If you are prepping your response, or if you interrupt, you are not listening with your heart). Listening with your heart is magic to any relationship!
3. Respond with your heart.
Listening with your heart is great for connection! But responding with your heart is the icing on the cake!
Typically we respond to data (the words), rather than to the 80%. In the example of number two, his response was to the data, but after asking him this series of questions that caused him to listen with his heart, I asked him a question: “If you had noted the 80% first, what might your response have been?”
He looked at me as if he was trying to pull up to memory a very long algebraic formula that he had learned in graduate school. But after a pause, he said: “Maybe I would have said are you afraid that my sister doesn’t love you?”
More tears confirmed that it was a connecting response, a response from his heart.
Later she said that she was not actually afraid that his sister did not love her anymore, she was actually afraid that he had shared some of their personal struggles with her. However, even though his guess was incorrect, he had created connection.
The goal is not to guess precisely, but to create connection.
Learn to respond from your heart.
4. Make physical contact when appropriate.
There is powerful research to support physical touch and connection.
Physical touch activates our vagus nerve which runs throughout our body. When it is activated, it slows down our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and decreases stress hormones in our bodies.
In addition research shows these additional benefits of physical touch:
- Improves sleep patterns and quality of sleep
- Reduces body pain
- Boosts the immune system to attack any bacterial, viral or cancer cells
But perhaps most importantly, physical touch has been shown to release oxytocin. Oxytocin is the chemical that creates connection.
Gently touching someone’s arms, holding their hand, or hugging for 10 seconds boosts oxytocin release. Touch appropriately, but touch as often as you can.
5. Do something new together.
Doing something new together creates connection. Sometimes we all get into habits and patterns and our routine anchors us to disconnection. Scramble it up!
I love it when people tell me there’s nothing new to do. I usually smile, and say: “Really? Have you gone skinny dipping together?” Somehow the laughter gets creative juices for “new things” flowing.
- Try a new restaurant.
- If you walk together walk a new route.
- Watch the sunset together.
- Look in the community activity section online and choose something together that you’ve never been before.
- Take a dance lesson.
- Eat dessert first.
- Bakes cookies together and take them to your neighbor.
Doing something new together or something different together creates vulnerability which makes us all available for more connection.
Do something new, do something different!
6. Share your feelings.
Your feelings about what? Your feelings about anything!
Typically we act out our feelings rather than share our feelings. When clients in my office are baffled by the thought of sharing their feelings, I give them this metaphor:
Have you ever seen the Wizard of Oz? Most people have. The Oz gives us a great way to look at sharing our feelings. As opposed to acting them out.
On the screen, the Wizard of Oz was a very scary image. He looked big and sounded mean. Most of us as children were afraid of him.
But then Toto grabbed the curtain behind the screen where the Wizard, a little old man, in front of a camera was making himself look much meaner and scarier than he really was, was standing.
Acting out our feelings is like the Wizard on the screen. But as Toto pulled back the curtain, allowing us a peek into who he really was, is like sharing our hearts. But you have to pull back the curtain.
Think of sharing your feelings as opening the curtain inside your heart and allowing someone else to take a peek at who you really are. That’s all sharing your feelings is. It’s not nearly as daunting as we think.
7. Dig deeper.
It is certainly OK to begin conversations with news, sports and weather.
But then … dig a little deeper. What’s really important to you at the moment?
If this was your last conversation with the person you are connecting with, what would you want to make sure they knew? If somehow they were going to move to Mars tomorrow, with no communication connection back to earth, and you would never see them again, what would you want them to take with them?
How do you feel about them? What are you grateful to them for? What would you want to wish them?
For example, with the client I spoke of in beginning who asked if I wanted him to superglue himself to his fiancé, I intervened because I was showing them how to connect.
She had shared with him that she had some concerns and was feeling a little bit of fear about their upcoming the wedding. His response had been, “Well let me know what you decide.”
I told him he had missed a beautiful opportunity to connect by going deeper. I asked him if he would be willing to learn to engage deeper. He nodded affirmatively, so I told him I was going to suggest three questions for him to respond with that would cause them both to dig deeper, and he could choose one.
The choices I gave him were:
1. What is it like for you to have concerns this close to our wedding?
2. What can we do to address some of your concerns?
3. What can I do to give you reassurance?
I have to admit that he looked at me like I had pulled some kind of magic rabbit out of a hat. Then he looked at me and asked, “Well, can I ask all three?”
He did ask all three, and we had a very rich conversation that created great connection!
All because he was willing to dig a little deeper.
You don’t need a bottle of superglue to connect, but if you will practice these seven things, I can assure you that you will begin to connect more deeply.
Not only will you receive the health benefits of connection, but you will also have richer relationships.