Connecting With Those You’re With

I was out to dinner with a group of 6 people earlier this week.  At one point during the meal something funny was said, and one of the people at the table laughed out loud with one of those great infectious laughs that make other people that hear it begin laughing as well.  It went on for several minutes.  It was great!

Several times prior to this uproarious event there were instances when most of the people in the group were on their smart phones at the same time, either looking up someplace to eat, or just checking in on social media.   It’s always weird to me when a group of people that have made an effort to gather together spend so much time on their phones seeing what other people, that aren’t present, are up to.

After the meal I was thinking about the person’s infectious laugher and how it created a shared experience that was enjoyable and created a connection between everyone at the table.  I also thought of the times when folks were all on their cell phones.  There was no connection or shared laughter when people’s faces were buried in their phones.   The only shared experience we had at those times was that we were all occupying the same space.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I think if you’re going to make an effort to get together and spend time with people in person, you shouldn’t be looking at your phone to find out what other people are doing, or what you might be missing out on.  I personally have never had an enjoyable shared experience with people who are all sitting together focused on their smart phones and disconnected from one another.

With the holidays upon us, we’ll likely have several opportunities to gather with others over a meal, for drinks, or just for the sake of spending time together.  Be mindful during these times about connecting with the people you’re present with, and consider leaving the smart phone in your pocket or purse.

And if you’d really rather not connect with the people you’re gathered with, it begs the question… what are you even doing there?

You Can Tell A Lot From A Little

Consider the following sentence:

“After work, he bought his wife some roses.”

By reading these 8 simple words, we very quickly learn quite a bit of information about this person.  For example, we know this person:

  • Is a male
  • Is married
  • Has some disposable income to buy flowers
  • Is thinking of his wife
  • Has a job

In addition to these details, our sentence also generates a number of questions for us, such as:

  • Why is he buying flowers for his wife?
  • How long have he and his wife been married?
  • Where does he work?
  • What does he do at his job?
  • How old are these 2 people?
  • Does he buy his wife flowers often?
  • Will his wife appreciate the flowers?

In just 8 simple words we now know a decent amount about this person and have several questions to ask that would help us learn even more about him and his wife.

So what, right?  I mean, that’s nice and all, but what does that have to do with anything, and who really cares?  Consider this…

Every day we exchange numerous sentences with other people through digital forms like text, email, social media, as well as through old-fashioned verbal communication.  Therefore, every day we receive a great deal of information about the people we interact with.  If you want to become better at connecting with people, or become a better listener, this information provides a great starting point to do so.

Begin paying attention to what people are saying.  Listen for the facts, but also keep your radar up for the questions you can ask that will help take the conversation deeper.  And when you have a question, ask it.  These are the initial steps in connecting with others.

I’m not saying you have to do this with every conversation you have, but if you’re looking to make a connection or build a relationship with someone, this is a great way to start.

Share Your Struggles With Others

I received an email this week from a friend I serve on a volunteer board with.  She was asking a question about one of the financial reports.  During her email, she confided that due to her lack of understanding about the financial reports, she felt inept to serve on the board.  I knew exactly how my friend felt, because they are in the same feelings I had during my first term serving on the board.

I remember so clearly a conversation I had with the board chairman during my first term.  It seemed to me like I didn’t bring any value and questioned whether I should even be on the board.  He told me that I did in fact add value, and the best thing I could do was to continue asking questions like I had been doing in previous board meetings.  Those comments really encouraged me, so I did what he said.  After a few more board meetings, my own feelings of ineptitude began to wane and I started to feel like I was actually adding value.

I’m so glad I shared with the chairman how I was struggling.  He gave me some encouraging advice, and also communicated that I was needed and offered more value than I realized.  What’s even better is that I got to share that experience with my friend who is currently having a similar struggle.  I was able to have empathy and offer encouragement and remind her of the value she brings.

It felt great to encourage someone and remind them of their value in a particular situation, especially when that value was in question for them.

None of us are perfect.  We’ve all faced struggles that leave us feeling overwhelmed, inept, and even discouraged.  The good news regarding these situations is that once we get past them, we can offer encouragement and perhaps a new perspective to someone who is experiencing a similar struggle.

Pay attention to what the people around you are saying.  Listen for struggles they are facing that are similar to ones that you have experience and be quick to offer encouragement and to reinforce their value.

What a tremendous blessing to be able to encourage someone in their moment of need.

Taking Opportunities to Connect (Part 2)

This week I was again reminded of the desire people have to connect with one another.   My church is kicking off small groups for the fall and winter and the group I’m leading had their first meeting on Wednesday evening.  There were 6 of us and we all hit it off really well.  This is going to be a fun group!

As a way to get to know one another, our group opened with 2 short questions that each person responded to.  Those 2 questions were:

  1. What is something you enjoy doing
  2. Why are you in this group?

From the answers to questions 1, it is obvious that our group likes getting out doors and hiking.  I see a potential group hike in our future!

There was a strong theme regarding the 2nd question that had to do with connecting with others.  People in the group, including me, were interested in connecting with a smaller group of people and establishing relationships that went beyond the busy Sunday pleasantries of, “How are you doing?  I’m fine.”  We are all interested in getting to know people and to be known as well.  That is one of the best reasons for joining a small group that I can think of.

I’ve been part of several small group settings including:

  • Groups at church
  • Professional groups and workshops
  • Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace
  • The Dale Carnegie Human Relations course

It’s amazing to me how much people open up when they’re in the company of others with similar interests.  What’s even more amazing is once a safe environment is established:

  1. People are willing to honestly share what’s going on in their lives.
  2. How supportive people are to others in the group.

People are social creatures and were made for interaction with others.  Although it’s easy to shut ourselves off from others and go about our days without connecting with others, I think this is a bad plan.  Long term it leads to potential loneliness and a life lacking the richness that is often provided through connection with others.

How are you doing at connecting with others?  I encourage you to look for opportunities to connect with others in the days, week, and months ahead.  In my opinion, life is more enjoyable when we invest in the lives of others, and they do likewise with us.

Taking Opportunities to Connect

This week I was in a 3-day workshop with 50 other folks on the topic of Data Display and Dashboard Design.  I’m sure this topic is causing most readers to yawn (but hopefully keep reading!).  For me however, this was an exciting workshop that I had been looking forward to for several weeks.  I’ve been struggling to find people in the data display field to interact with, so I was excited at the opportunity to “geek out” on this topic with other like-minded folks.

In the weeks prior to the workshop, I committed to making an effort to meet and connect with as many people as I could.  I decided I would take the initiative to introduce myself to others, initiate conversations, and invite folks who seemed to be on the periphery into conversations I was having with others.

I’m so glad I followed through with my commitment!  Just the connections and conversations I had with people at the workshop were worth the price of admission.  The actual content provided in the workshop was an added bonus.

By stepping out and deciding to connect with others I:

  • Was encouraged and motivated by what others in the field were doing.
  • Learned answers to a couple of significant data related questions I had been struggling with.
  • Made some great professional contacts.
  • Met some very nice people.

Connecting with others is not always easy and can sometimes be awkward, especially if you’re normally a shy person.  However, I’ve found that people I introduce myself to at a workshop or other event are usually glad to engage, and often thankful that someone has initiated conversation with them.  It feels like people are eager to connect, but often tentative about taking the first step.

The next time you’re at an event with people you may not know, take the initiative to connect with the other attendees.  Know in advance though, that it will require something from you.  It will require:

  • Getting your face out of the smart phone and actually talking to people.
  • Putting yourself out there by getting outside of your comfort zone and being the first to introducing yourself, or start a conversation.
  • Not running off at breaks or lunch to check your email, smart phone, or any other convenient distraction that normally keeps us from connecting with others.

Not connecting with others and keeping to yourself is easy, but it’s also unrewarding.  Being the one to initiate contact can be scary and makes you vulnerable, but it’s so much more rewarding than being alone in a room full of people you have so much in common with.

Be the one that goes first.  You’ll be rewarded for your efforts, and others will be blessed the interest you’re taking in them.

Don’t Wait to be of Service

“If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say, “Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you.”   ~Proverbs 3:28

This is one of my favorite proverbs, and one that often pops into my head at just the time I need it.

It’s easy to offer assistance, pay a debt, or fulfill a promise you made when it’s on our terms or fits into our schedule.  It’s quite another thing to do when we’re pressed for time or just don’t feel like it.  Regardless, the writer of this proverb tells us that we should not turn someone away to come back another day, when we can help them today.  If we can take action to assist in that moment, we should.

I think an important reason for doing this is that if we do indeed send them away to come back another day, we may miss the opportunity to have an impact in their life.  Sure, it may not be a life changing impact, but there may be an opportunity to connect with them and make an impact that day.  You never know where the next opportunity will come from.

So who can you help today, that you’d rather help tomorrow?  When you think of that person, be reminded of Proverbs 3:28, and take action today.

Connect Around a Common Interest

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

~Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

I had 2 opportunities this week to talk with people who were as excited as I was about a common topic.  The first opportunity centered on a software tool called QlikView.  The other was around the area of personal development.

In both cases, there was an excitement as we discussed our common interest.  Ideas were shared, questions were asked and answered, problems and setbacks were discussed, and suggestions for improvement were provided.   I loved the exchanged because I felt like I was not only heard, but I got to give value to the other people, as well as receiving value from them in return.  Those exchanges were highlights of my week.

It reminds me how important it is to spend time with people who are on the same path as me, in an area where I want to improve.  Some of the benefits of doing so include:

  • Being exposed to new thoughts, concepts, and ideas
  • Deepening your understanding of the topic
  • Sharing what you’ve learned with others
  • Being able to ask questions to someone who can potentially help you or point you in the right direction
  • Making connections with people who share a common interest
  • Increasing your network
  • Hearing what other people are working on, struggling with, or discovering in the same area as you
  • Feeling like you’re on a journey with others instead of being isolated and traveling alone

Those conversations this week were very rewarding, and left me wanting more interactions just like those.  I’ll certainly be looking for similar opportunities, only at a higher frequency per week.

Be on the lookout starting today for opportunities to connect with others around a common interest.  Not only will you have fun discussing it with someone else, you just may have the knowledge and experience someone else needs to hear in order to get unstuck.

What Do People Think

What Do People Think When They Hear You Coming

~Joni  Eareckson Tada

What do you think when you ponder that question?  Are you a value-add in that people are glad to see you and your presence is welcome, or is your presence seen as something that is an unwelcomed interruption?

If your answer to that question left you feeling slightly uncomfortable, and you’d like to improve the likelihood that you arrival will be seen as a welcomed event, try practicing the following suggestions during your interactions with others:

  • Take an interest in others and what they’re interested in, instead of focusing on your own interests.
  • Be kind to people and show them grace, because we may not know what they’re going through.
  • Look for the best in others instead of the worst, because we tend to find what we’re looking for.
  • Offer sincere praise or appreciation; most people probably don’t get enough of either.
  • Give them you undistracted attention; by doing so you’ll communicate that they’re important to you.

We all want to be viewed as a value-add, and someone whose presence is appreciated and valued.  The best way to cause this is to value others and communicate that by showing them kindness, appreciation, attention, and respect.

Look for opportunities to put these suggestions into practice starting today.  When you do, people we will look forward to your arrival.

Why it’s not Always Good to Have All the Answers

It’s nice to have the answer to a question or problem.  But what happens when we think we have all the answers to every question, and that our answers are better than everyone else’s?

Here are 5 dangers of thinking we have all the answers:

  1. We won’t gain new skills and experience. When we think we have all the answers, we aren’t open to trying new approaches to solving problems.  This keeps us from gaining new skills that come from new experiences.
  2. Our problem solving skills will not improve. If we already know the answer to every question, we won’t have opportunity to exercise our problem solving skills.  Instead, we’ll continue to simply rely on our own limited knowledge and miss the challenge of considering new methods to solve a problem.
  3. We won’t be able to collaborate with or leverage the knowledge of others. If think we know everything, we won’t seek assistance from others, or avail ourselves to the knowledge and experience they have.  This limits our exposure to new thoughts and ideas that we may have never heard or considered.
  4. We are not likely to attract or keep good thinkers on our teams. Good thinkers don’t want to be around people that have all the answers, because good thinkers like to think and share ideas. If we have all the answers, the good thinkers around us will go elsewhere; and take their good thinking with them.
  5. We’ll never create anything bigger than ourselves. If we rely only on what we know and our limited answers, we waste opportunities to collaborate with others in order to create something that is much bigger than ourselves.  How can we possibly create something bigger than ourselves if we only rely on our own limited knowledge?

Don’t get me wrong, its’ good to have answers to questions and problems, and when we have answers, we should share them with others.  However, I think it’s foolish to assume that we are possible of having ALL the answers to EVERY problem or question.

If, in the very rare case, we do indeed have all the answers to every question or problem we encounter, that is probably a good indication we need to step out of our comfort zone and do something else.

Put Yourself on Airplane Mode

One of my favorite features on my smart phone is Airplane Mode.  Yes, seriously, Airplane Mode.  You know that function which keeps your phone from connecting to networks, the internet or cell phone communication.  I love that feature!

I know that may sound rather stupid.  Why would my favorite feature on an amazing communication and information gathering device be to disable its ability to do all those amazing things?  While I’m a huge fan of smart phone technology and the benefits they provide, I also appreciate the ability to hold that technology at bay when it starts to become a hindrance to what I should be currently focusing on.

For example, I don’t need internet access, text messaging, email, or social media updates when I’m:

  • Focusing on a task or project that requires my full concentration.
  • Enjoying a non-technical event or outing.
  • Spending face-to-face time with other people.

In these instances, rarely, if ever, does the intrusion of a smart phone add to the occasion.

In addition to putting our phones on Airplane Mode, I think we can do likewise with ourselves and our environment.  We can remove distractions and external intrusions that hinder our ability to be fully engaged in the events and the people in our lives by taking simple steps like:

  • Engage in activities that are active and require participation and interaction from everyone involved.
  • Spending time with people in a non-technical environment, like the outdoors or a space without computers, televisions and other devices that vie for your attention.
  • Declare the next outing or event with friends or family an “Airplane Mode event” where all participants place their phones on Airplane Mode, during the event.

Sure, these ideas may seem awkward at first, but taking steps to better connect with those close to you is always worth pursuing.  Who knows, you might be amazed at how much actually learn about others.