I met one of my dearest friends in the hospital. Decked out in a backless gown, I looked over at the woman in the bed beside mine and introduced myself. I soon learned we were both in a health crisis and we clicked immediately. That was 18 years ago, and we’ve been the best of friends ever since.
We won’t become best friends forever with everyone we talk to, but connecting with others is one of life’s most meaningful activities. Today, I want to talk about why connection matters, what stops us from connecting and how we can experience the joy of connecting without any guilt or emotional baggage.
What is connecting?
Connecting is about learning about another person and letting that other person learn about you. It’s not networking, it’s not goal oriented, and it doesn’t come with expectations. Connecting is a journey and an exploration that unfolds in unknown and wonderful ways. Whether it lasts for two minutes at the grocery store or becomes a lifetime of friendship, connection is an essential part of the human experience.
Why connection matters
Cigna’s 2020 Loneliness and the Workplace report found that 61% of Americans report feeling lonely (up from 54% in 2018), with loneliness being reported more in younger Gen Z and millennials than by baby boomers. The key determinants of loneliness are a lack of meaningful social interactions, negative feelings about personal relationships, poor physical and mental health and a lack of balance with daily activities (for example, doing too much or too little work, sleep, etc.).
This is important because loneliness is associated with mental and physical illness such as depression, anxiety, sleeping issues, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Cultivating meaningful connections is the antidote to loneliness and a powerful contributor to our overall health! But like many health initiatives, incorporating connection comes with some challenges.
Why becoming and staying connected can be difficult
As a true extrovert, connecting isn’t hard for me. I can (and do) talk to anybody. If you’re beside me at the coffee shop, on an airplane or at a networking event, you can count on me saying hello. I regularly pick up the telephone and call people.
But for many people, connecting doesn’t come as easily. In my experience with clients, colleagues and friends, people generally have trouble connecting for three main reasons.
We tell ourselves false stories
Often our resistance to connect with someone new is related to the stories we tell ourselves. We wonder, “Why would somebody want to meet with me? What do I have to offer that person? Am I good enough? Smart enough?” With re-connecting, these stories can sound like, “I don’t want to bother Betty. If she wanted to talk to me, she would’ve called, so I’m clearly not important to her.” Well, Betty might be thinking the same thing!
These thoughts can turn into unhelpful loops which sabotage our ability to actually connect with other people. This is normal, even for extroverts. But the stories we tell ourselves about connecting—especially with new people—generally aren’t true. Many people will be thrilled that you’ve taken the initiative.
But sometimes you’ll reach out and get no response or the run-around, and that’s okay. When it seems like the other person doesn’t want to connect, that’s great news, because now you can focus your efforts on people who do want to connect.
We’re embarrassed about not connecting
Time flies and it’s easy for weeks, months and years to go by without connecting with people we genuinely like. When I talk to clients about re-connecting with someone, I often hear, “Oh, Vicki, I’m so embarrassed because I haven’t reached out. It’s been a year and I meant to do it, but time just got away from me.” But the reality is … the other person didn’t reach out either, so why beat yourself up? Instead, pick up the phone and start again.
A great way to get over discomfort is having a reason to call. For example, you could say, “Hey, I saw an article about insulin resistance in distance runners and I know you’re interested in that, so I wanted to share it with you.” Or you could simply start with, “Hi Dave, you’ve always had such an impact on my life, I just wanted to reach out and see how you’re doing.” Joanne Lipman, the bestselling author of NEXT! The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work, suggests the secret to effectively making new connections is as simple as asking for advice.
We resist being the one to make the move
Sometimes stubbornness and ego can get in the way of re-connecting. People have said to me, “Why should I be the one to reach out?” Well, it has to be someone, right? Connecting isn’t about keeping score; the more we keep score in relationships, the unhappier we tend to be. If someone else is important to you, be the bigger person and reach out. You’ll feel good that you made the effort, and the other person will probably be delighted to hear from you.
Overcoming the challenges of staying connected
Connecting is an ultra-marathon, not a 100-metre dash. If reaching out simply never crosses your mind, you’ll need to mitigate that reality by creating a connection routine. Maybe you set aside an hour in your calendar every week to reach out to someone. Maybe you schedule a call at the same time each month with your best friend/favourite aunt/mentor.
Depending on the person, connecting could mean staying in touch every week, month or year. Being intentional and purposeful makes it much easier to build and maintain meaningful connections.
And, if you’re still hesitant about connecting with people, I encourage you to first think about what kind of connection works for you. Some people prefer talking one-on-one for deep conversations. Others prefer larger groups. When you connect in the way that works for you, you’re much more likely to keep it up.
Next, think about how connecting has already brought meaning to your life. It’s time to continue this exploration because you never know where it could lead. For example, a woman I met at Verity introduced me to one of her clients to support him with coaching. Because we spoke the same language of business, he and I instantly hit it off. This was five or six years ago, and we’ve built a great relationship. He’s been my biggest cheerleader, constantly promoting me to other professionals and companies. All from a surprise introduction.
My challenge to you … connect with someone this week
Connecting allows us to hear other people’s perspective, enriches us, helps us stretch beyond our comfort zone and learn about ourselves. It brings meaning to our lives and to others—and this makes us happier. I encourage you to think about someone you’d like to connect or re-connect with and reach out to that person … this week! Don’t think about it too much, just do it. You won’t regret it.
But if you’re really struggling to connect with a particular person or in general, reach out to me; I can help you work through your situation and move beyond it while being authentically you. Alternatively, sign up here for my on-demand webinar, Networking: Love It or Hate It. In this training, you’ll learn how to network effectively for business results, how to maintain meaningful personal and professional connections and why it’s so important for women to support each other.
Hi, I’m Vicki Bradley, an executive coach in Toronto and the Founder and CEO of Women in Leadership Empowered.
I work with women pursuing success in executive leadership roles and the presidents and CEOs who understand that strong businesses are built with strong, diverse leadership.
WIL Empowered is a group coaching program where we focus on all four aspects of leadership development through coaching, networking, peer to peer mentoring and developing power skills. Our mission is to help women develop the skills, motivation and accountability required to succeed in their business and personal lives.
Take our five-minute leadership quiz to discover where your leadership skills are now and where you’d like them to be this time next year.