Deepening our connection with others is powerful. On a recent trip my husband and I took to New Orleans, we met a woman at a local park. Our meeting was prompted by her dog who seemed to like our company, but there was immediate connection with this New Orleans stranger. It wasn’t too long before we were talking about our love for the Crescent City and the stress she experiences while taking care of her aging husband. Although we were complete strangers, that conversation felt natural and we found connection in both our similarities and our differences. The brief chat with this lovely woman was medicinal. We had a bit more pep in our step the rest of the day.
A few months ago, I hosted a conference on Sisterhood. Once the women broke out into their respective workshops, it wasn’t too long before we saw the power of sisterhood materialize. The women felt safe enough to share their joys and fears. Vulnerability was present among most women. There were tears and laughter exchanged and there was a deepening of connection.
My list of such stories about connection are endless and they should be. As social beings, we crave healthy human connection because we are wired for connection. Connection in the form of social support boosts our immune system and it causes the brain to release oxytocin, which reduces anxiety and improves focus and concentration. Healthy connection with a caregiver during our first five years of life results in optimal brain development.
Even though it’s clear that connection is powerful, authentic connection is something that many of us could strengthen. Here are a few ideas that I have about how we can deepen our connections with others:
- Stop texting and pick up the phone. Instead of texting a friend, call or video chat. Initiating a live conversation communicates to the other person that they are important. There’s something special about hearing someone’s voice or reading their body language, rather than trying to decipher an emoji.
- Be a good listener. Choose not to multi-task. Just listen to the other person. And really listen. Don’t interrupt the person or try to finish their sentences. Be fully present and use reflective statements so that the one you’re listening to knows that you are listening. An example of a reflective statment is, “You’re feeling sad and unappreciated because you were not invited to the party.” Being a powerful listener can go a long way with deepening our connections.
- Schedule quality time: While a phone call or video chatting is nice, it’s even better if you can make time to meet up with friends and family members in person. You can protect time on your calendar to have a game night with friends or a date night with your spouse.
- Focus on the positives (5 to 1 ratio): Another way to deepen our connections with others is to have more positive interactions than negative ones. If you are always criticizing people, you’ll create distance. In order to deepen our connection with others, a good rule of thumb is to have five acts of praise for every 1 criticism.
- Make people feel special. There is a fifth-grade teacher, Barry White Jr. of Ashley Park Elementary School in Charlotte, North Carolina, who greets each of his students with a personalized handshake. This communicates to each of his students that they are important and special. But there are other ways to make people feel special like sending them a card, remembering their name, spending quality time with them or giving that person a friendly hug. Little gestures can go a long way.
People need people, so it’s important to focus on ways that we can deepen our connections with others. Try some of the tips and see how they work for you. I could certainly work on these tips myself, as deepening my connection with others is my personal goal. If you’re deaing with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that make it difficult for you to connect with others, reach out to a professional who can help you. And for those of you who have others ideas about how we can strengthen our relationships, please comment below. Let’s continue to do the things that enhance the quality of our lives and the lives of others.