Our human (and non-human) connections are never black and white, so talking about relationships is a tricky one. Depending on your personality type, where you fall on the Myer’s Briggs test, or the Enneagram, connection could come easy for you or not at all. What we DO know concretely, is that friendship and connection to others is essential to our health and overall happiness in life. For proof: see Karen’s article on all the health benefits on friendship.
To no one’s surprise, I’m an extrovert and a 4 (yes, I have a dark side for all of you Enneagram fanatics). Because of that, connection to others comes semi-naturally to me. I am happy to have small talk with a stranger or a stump in the ground, no problem. However, there have been times in my life where I have been absolutely terrified to meet new people and figure out how to cultivate a connection with them. The most notable example of this was when I was in college and about to leave for my semester abroad. I was signed up for Semester at Sea, which was a group of 700 students traveling the world by ship. I should mention, I knew no one else that was going. Leading up to the trip, I was SO excited, couldn’t wait, ready to leave and start my adventure… then WHAM. The night before I left I had a full-blown panic attack. Questions were running through my head: Who will I be friends with? Will they like me? What if they don’t? What is my exit strategy? The truth was, there was no exit strategy. I was forced to put myself out there and find friendships that were worth having. There was no cell phone service in the middle of the ocean, no computers, just good old fashioned conversation and fun! I was forced to make friends or else I would be stuck in my room for 4 months. And that doesn’t work so well for an extrovert. Fast forward: I met an amazing group of people that are still a huge part of my life 12 years later. And even better, a few of them are responsible for introducing me to my husband!
There are a few things I want to point out from this particular scenario that seem important when talking about ways to cultivate connection with others. First, we are ruled by technology in this modern day in age and the chains that comes along with it. We are over-stimulated and under-connected in a really big way. Yes, we have “friends” on Facebook and Instagram, but that will not nourish you in ways like having human contact will. In fact, I would argue that it does the complete opposite. So all of my recommendations are coming from a place where you should put the phone down, and engage with intention.
The second thing I want to note is the idea of taking a risk. I knew in my core that that trip would define the rest of my life, and I was right. The reward was well worth all of the discomfort I experienced. For our introverts or people who struggle finding connection with others, some of the recommendations I’ll have will be out of your comfort zone. Know that we ALL have lines that we avoid crossing in order to feel “safe”. My opinion is, to grow as individuals, we must push our boundaries a bit!
Here are a few ways to connect with others:
First and foremost: to find connection with anyone, put the cell phone or tablet down. There is nothing more distracting than someone on their smart device, so pair this first rec with any of the following ones!
Hug someone. Physical touch has incredible benefits for the body and mind. It helps reset our nervous systems and makes us feel loved.
Volunteer with animals. I believe that connection can come from all sorts of places. If animals bring you more joy than humans, go volunteer at a local shelter or foster program and find the connection you’re craving.
Along the same lines as #3, find some time to help with the homeless or the elderly in a nursing home. It can be incredibly nourishing to my spirit when I’m able to go and help with those who don’t typically have much connection with others. It brings them joy, and brings me joy. Double boost!
Try something new with a friend. Putting yourself in an unfamiliar situation with someone builds a bond. You both don’t know what to expect, so you have to get through it together. Think of the stories and conversations that will come from that.
Have some deep, thought-provoking conversations. It challenges your mind and skills to listen, observe, and develop your empathy and dive deeper into a connection with someone.
Make eye contact with people. Whether you’re having a deep conversation or passing someone in the street, eye connection is key. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, so connect with everyone you see! And don’t forget to smile.
Be your genuine self. There are enough people in this world, but only one YOU. People want to know who you are and what you stand for. The more genuine you can be, the better.
What are the ways you have gotten out of your comfort zone or connected with others? Do you have a favorite way to unplug and recalibrate? Share your stories next time you’re in the office!