You know that relationships & connections play an important role in your life. What you might not realize is how we connect with others has unimagined importance & consequences. And we’re failing. But it’s not too late. Here are simple steps to building stronger relationships, faster than ever before, and becoming a better person along the way.
We are Built to Connect
Your brain is wired to be social. Its circuitry is uniquely equipped to seek out & respond to other people’s brains, bodies, & words. Yes, I said seek out & respond to other people’s brains! Neuroscientists call it “brain-to-brain link” or “coupling”. Here is what they’ve discovered:
- Matching facial expressions can make you feel what another person is feeling.
- In moments of fear you focus on other people’s faces for cues as to how you should respond.
- You can identify fear in a person’s face in less than 33 milliseconds.
- Watching another person feel an intense emotion fires the same neural pathway as if you were experiencing the emotion yourself.
And that’s just the beginning. Every detail of how we relate to one another carries significant social consequences. External factors such as eye contact, smiling, squinting, the angle of your shoulders, & the position of your feet send immediate and clear signals to the people around you.
The amazing thing is how much we are also shaped by the internal factors of another person. Their feelings, thoughts, emotions, assumptions, & biases all get conveyed through mechanisms we are largely unaware of.
From their brain to our brain, we pick up these signals. We are able to (easily & accurately) tune-in to their mental state. And our brain aligns with what we tune-in to. Scary right? It happens almost entirely outside of your conscious thought. Your brain was built to connect & it’s going to do it whether you want it to or not. It doesn’t always get it right. It makes educated guesses. But your brain is surprisingly attune to what is going on inside other people’s brains.
The Age of Disconnection
We are more connected across the world than ever before — and we are more disconnected from each other. That idea has been popular for years. But most of the time it misses why we are disconnected. It’s not that we don’t talk to each other or that we don’t interact. It’s how we interact that has seen a profound shift. I’m not talking about text, Facebook, & email. I mean how we interact face-to-face or verbally has totally changed.
Our attention has become split. We juggle so many things at once that we are hardly paying attention at all to the people we’re interacting with . . . and so we miss opportunities to deeply connect like we were built to do. We miss clear signals from other people because we simply aren’t looking anymore.
We order coffee from the barista with a song playing in our headphones. We half-listen to our spouse in bed over the glow of Candy Crush on our iPad. We speak to our client on the phone while we scan through our email inbox. We refresh our Twitter feed over dinner with friends.
And I’ve been as guilty as anyone.
We are not built to multi-task. We know this now. The studies are definitive & irrefutable. We are especially not built to multi-task during person-to-person interaction. We are built to focus. We are built to pay attention. We are built to connect.
Two helpful tips:
PUT DOWN YOUR CELL PHONE
Find two small boxes, put one in your living room, and the other somewhere outside your bedroom (like the bathroom or just outside the door). These small boxes will be your cell phone prison. During dinner or time with family & friends, everyone turn their phone on silent & place it in the box (cell phone prison). No exceptions, not even for guests. When you go to your bedroom at night, leave your cell phone in the box outside your room, again on silent. No more distractions. Tell stories, laugh, ask questions, cry if you need to. Something special happens when we remove the barriers between us. It changes you.
FOCUS INTENSELY ON THE PERSON YOU’RE WITH
It can be so easy to mentally drift in a conversation. We get so busy & we move so fast we just don’t focus on the person we’re with. There is a lot of background noise in our minds during most of our interactions. Block it out by paying careful attention to the person’s face, tone of voice, rate of speech, posture, & overall demeanor. Not to say you shouldn’t listen to their words, you should listen very carefully. Just observe more than that because it’s where so much meaning & connection is found. Do this, at home & at work, and you will connect like never before. I promise.
I’m only giving you two because I want you to actually do them! Try these two things for a week at first. See how it goes. Keep it going for a month. Watch what happens.