“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends & Influence People
I'm not a connection expert; I'm a connection curator.
Just because I study a great deal to learn what's known about connection doesn't necessarily mean I'm an expert, though I aspire to become that someday. What I really am is a connection curator — someone who collects, organizes, and displays things about connection—just as a museum curator would do with her treasured art or collectibles. I read everything I can get my hands on about connection, and since this blog is about life's essential connections with God, with self, with others, and with nature, that covers a lot of territory. But it's a worthy goal, and I will persevere.
Connecting with others is more than a trait; it's a skill.
As I share my conviction that anyone can become better at connecting with others, I often get skeptical responses.
“I'm not a people person.”
“I'm so shy.”
“I feel so awkward around others.”
“I don't know what to do when I'm around others.”
Hear me loud and clear: anyone can learn to be a better connector, and the effort will pay off in so many ways.
Five secrets of successful connectors
As I began to study successful people and what researchers and social scientists have written about the consistent activities of happy, well-connected individuals, there were five themes that kept emerging over and over again about what it takes to connect effectively with others, regardless of where they are relative to you on the socio-economic ladder.
1) Be yourself
Some individuals have perfected the art of glad-handing, and on the surface, they may seem genuine, but those who lack authenticity will soon be exposed as insincere at best or a fraud at worst. Don't take that chance. Be yourself, and you will attract the kinds of people who will respond with equal authenticity and who can most enrich your life. You can be yourself and be genuine without being rude or unkind, but it may mean choosing not to spend as much time around those who don't interest you or treat you with respect.
2) Be so attentive others will think you've got a super memory
What this boils down to is caring and listening. Others will know when you don't care or when you're multitasking or your mind is wandering, even on the phone. The added benefit of being attentive is you'll remember details about what people tell you that will position you to help them in the future when you come across resources related to them. When you remember, for instance, that someone is a horse lover, you might give them a call if you have an extra ticket to a regional horse show, when a saddlery opens up in your area, or you learn about a book or movie they'd enjoy. If you know they grew up in the mountains and love the outdoors, be sure they meet your friend who organizes hikes and outings. And never underestimate the simple act of remembering someone's name or whether they're married and have children. When you call them by name the next time you see them, and then ask how their family is, you'll forge a stronger connection than you might realize.
3) Provide unexpected help
And not just to those who are obviously needy. Even those you look up to or admire have needs and desires, and don't think you can't help them just because they seem out of reach. Perhaps they have a favorite charity. Maybe they have a child at the same college as yours. With just a little thought, you might be able to do something for them no one else can do. Even if they turn you down, the gesture will be appreciated.
4) Value your connections but only leverage them appropriately
I hate being asked to introduce someone to a colleague unless I can see a true win-win for the outcome. On the other hand, I also know how valuable mutual connections can be for forging unlikely friendships. When James Carville and Mary Matalin bought a farm right down the road from us, it seemed unlikely that we'd ever meet them. But when we saw James jogging one day while we were out walking, we struck up a conversation. When he learned that my husband was also from Louisiana and that one of my husband's medical school classmates was his mother's physician, we forged an immediate bond that gave us many later opportunities to spend time with them.
5) Reach out to cultivate relationships
I'm always surprised how some simple, inexpensive gestures can make you unforgettable to others. This is because so few people do them! What's with that? Send handwritten notes. Give a book you think someone will enjoy or benefit from. Pick up the phone and check on someone. Get in the habit of jotting a name down when they come to your mind. Then when you have a small window of time, take action to reach out to them. Being memorable isn’t as hard as you might think.
There are always exceptions
You may wonder why I used the word “almost” in the title of this blog. I would be naive to think that everyone will be equally open to my overtures of connection. In this day and time, people are understandably cautious and protective of their privacy. It's easy to come on too strong without meaning to. And there are certainly people in the world who simply don't want to connect with you. But don't give up and never stop trying to serve and give value. This, I believe, is love in action, and it's what makes life worthwhile.
What have I missed?
Have you discovered a secret to connecting with others that you'd be willing to share? I'd love to hear it in the comments section below, or join the conversation at my Facebook Page.