By Loren Koanui
Connection. It’s a concept that is fundamental to our existence as human beings. We enter this world hardwired to build connections. Whether it’s with our physical environment, or the people that surround us, our ability to connect drives our existence. From the earliest civilizations, to our modern culture, the ability to connect with others is essential for the growth and survival of our species. So I often wonder to myself why does our ability to genuinely connect with others seem so, well, difficult? Look at our modern world. We’ve created virtual environments (networks) to facilitate connecting with others. To make it easier, more convenient, and faster to reach out and connect with people around the globe. But, are we really connecting? Are we genuinely creating connections with people that are meaningful and respectful that drives understanding and helps us to appreciate the values and experiences of others? Or, are we simply typing a few words on a screen and hitting “send.” Are we scrolling up and down on our pocket-sized screens, mindlessly double-tapping an image, or hitting a “thumbs up” with the hope that the person viewing our interaction gains some personal sense of validation that we now equate to “connection?”
Our ability to create connections with others may have diminished since the advent of smart phones and social networks, but here’s the good news…we are still hardwired to genuinely connect with others, I believe that we just have to adjust our approach. Our world has evolved to be more transactional verses relational – more “check the box” type of interactions verses taking the time to connect in a way that communicates an attitude and mindset of caring, kindness, and understanding. Forming social and emotional connections hinge on our ability to be relational. That is, learning and appreciating the values and experiences of others as compared to ours, allowing trust and understanding to be mutually built, and ultimately a bond or connection being formed.
People that I meet have asked me about connecting and how to improve the quality of their interactions with one another. The approach that I take and describe seems to shock and confuse people. They ask, “Is it really that simple?” Yes, I reply happily with a smile. Is the approach easy? No. It takes practice and self-awareness. Most of us have life experiences that have shaped our view of the world and the people in it. Sometimes, our experiences leave us with a lasting negative impression. These lasting impressions tend to skew our approach when we interact with people.
So what’s my approach and is it really that simple? Let me explain. First, it starts with the intention of connecting. Connection is my goal to every interaction regardless of my relationship and experience with the person. This simple principle helps to shape my mindset as I engage with another person. As a young man growing up in Hawaii, I was taught that in order to love others, you must start from a place of love. Everything that happens after that is almost infallible.
Second, I take a deep breath, and in this breath I do a quick self-check on my thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about the person or situation. As I exhale, I release everything with that breath. Every single feeling, thought, and impression is emptied from my mind and body. This allows me to empty my perspective and ready myself to take and understand the perspective of the other person or the situation at hand. This is where skills like active listening, empathy, and seeking to understand without judgement comes into play.
The next step is probably the most important part. After listening and taking in the other perspective(s), I wait. You may be thinking, “wait?” “What are you waiting for?” I’m waiting for the moment to respond or share my perspective based on everything that I’ve just heard, felt, and experienced. I’m waiting to understand all sides of what that person just shared. If I’m able to gain an insight from what was shared, I’ll wait for the moment when the other person is ready to listen. If I don’t form any insights or perspectives, I don’t respond. So, here’s where it gets tricky. Sometimes, the other person is not ready to hear anything that I, or anyone else wants to share. In this moment, I wait. Sometimes I stay silent, other times I ask more questions to draw the other person out. Or, I simply acknowledge what was shared and the emotion behind.
When I’m ready to respond and the other person is ready to receive that response, I engage them with kindness and a gentle strength. What I share is not as important as how I share it. My goal is to not offend or emotionally harm the other person, but to share my insight or perspective in a way that is deliberate, confident, and true to my understanding of the person. This part of my approach may seem difficult. I’ve been told from others who’ve tried this approach that this is the part they struggle with the most. They’ve asked me, “How do I show someone gentle strength? Shouldn’t I just tell them exactly what I’m thinking?” Remember, the important thing is not what you share, but how you share it. If your approach is from a place of love and compassion, you message will be well received. This is the moment where connections are formed.
Simple? I think so. Easy? Definitely not. This approach takes practice. Lots of daily practice. It’s become a discipline that I practice in all that I do. There are days when I’m successful and am filled with a sense of joy knowing that I was able to connect with someone in a real and lasting way. But, there are days where I struggle to be patient and wait for the moment. Days when I failed to give grace to another and to listen without judgement. But, by practicing at least one of these steps, you will inherently be practicing all of the steps. If your intention starts from a place of love, your attempt at connecting will most likely result in connection.