“Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.”
~ Harriet Goldhor Lerner
Important relationships, service, and influence all start with a human connection. John Ryan, president of the Center for Creative Leadership, talks about the importance of making human connections for leaders in the article “When Leading With Your Head Isn’t Enough.” He discusses the four steps to help leaders build trust and authentic relationships with their people. We can all use these four principles to nurture our relationships with clients, colleagues, business partners, and other important people in our lives. Here’s how:
1. Listen (to groups and individuals)
Dedicate time each week to simply listen to people and be fully present, focused, and engaged. Listen to better understand their concerns, needs, and dreams. Create a safe space for them to speak honestly about important issues. Mirror back what you hear to check your understanding. Make whoever you talk to your top priority at that moment.
When we interact with others, the mirror neurons in the brain help us understand other people’s intentions, feelings, and emotions. They enable us to empathize with others. In his book “Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy,” Dev Patnaik discusses the role of empathy in successful companies and encourages companies to learn about their customers’ needs by interacting with them and understanding them.
Our empathy translates into the other person’s experience of being heard and acknowledged, which is a big deal in our harried world. It builds trust and shows that you care. It also helps to provide a more personalized service because you know what’s truly important to the client. So, take extra time to listen.
2. Be visible
It may be tempting to read, do research, answer emails, or do some other important projects at your desk, but people want to see you because it shows that you are interested and care about them and their work. At least once a week, join your colleagues or invite a client for lunch, attend a seminar or an event together.
If you work long-distance, you can use social media to share some appropriate personal moments with people. For example, you can share what you are reading, any conferences or events you may want to attend, or articles that may be helpful to others. We all want to know who we deal with.
I attended a conference some time ago where I met a woman who reminded me of an old friend and colleague. I felt an immediate connection. It was as if my positive associations transferred to this new acquaintance. Have you had similar experiences? Our brain is quick to categorize everybody we meet into “us” and “others.” Being visible gives you more chances to build rapport and discover any similarities between you and your clients, colleagues, or business partners. This, in turn, will make you familiar and safe to the brains of these people.
3. Show gratitude
Acknowledge people’s contributions in a specific way that shows that you understand the value of their actions and intentions. Don’t underestimate the power of a hand-written thank-you note or an occasional surprise gift.
Gratitude is brain-captivating for both the giver and the recipient. Positive psychology studies reveal that the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. For example, one recommended exercise is to write a “Gratitude Letter” to a person who has exerted a positive influence on your life but whom you have not properly thanked in the past, and then to meet that individual and read the letter face to face. Whenever you express gratitude, let yourself experience all the positive emotions and memories brought about by the act of giving thanks.
Invest in others’ success. Understand people’s aspirations and help them grow and develop professionally. Invest in mentorship, client education, and important trainings for your team members, and their brains will love you.
Our brain is sensitive to how we appear to others. We spend much time worrying about what others think of us. Research shows that when people realize they might compare unfavorably to someone else, it triggers the release of cortisol and other stress-related hormones. In contrast, when people master a new skill or receive praise their perception of status gets a boost. Supporting people’s growth in respectful and collaborative ways makes them feel good about their accomplishments and creates a sense of safety and trust when they interact with you.
What do you do to nurture important human connections?