At a time when people are feeling increasing disconnection, this week I explore how to deepen connection.

In this episode I explain:

  • What Star Wars has to do with building connection
  • How we often think we’re building connection when in fact we’re not
  • How our Tacit Wisdom is stronger than our intellectual knowledge
  • What to focus on to deepen connection

…And ..our discomfort with silence

Full Transcription below:

One of the most significant phenomenon to emerge from the pandemic is this consistent feeling of disconnection. Leaders are feeling disconnected. Their people, our people, are feeling disconnected. It’s largely and a lot to do with the fact that we’ve been forced into remote working and remote spaces, but the general uncertainty and chaos has definitely led to a feeling of disconnection generally across the population. That’s going to be the theme for this episode.

And before I get into that theme, I’m going to start in a very different place. You know when you just know, when you have a feeling about things, a sixth sense, or gut instinct. In this age of reason, data, science, technology, information, where that’s celebrated, the whole idea of feeling and gut instinct has definitely been relegated into the second division. But it serves us, unconsciously, on a daily basis, whether we know it or not. It’s a tacit wisdom. It’s the tacit wisdom we have when we look at a photograph and we can tell whether it’s a real smile or a fake smile. It’s the wisdom where we just know when our kids are not telling the truth. Or the wisdom to know when somebody’s really listening to understand and caring, or whether they’re just listening to respond and going through the motions. My own personal favorite is one of the techniques that are used on influencing courses is that you need to acknowledge somebody. And what that means, normally, is repeating back pretty much verbatim exactly what it is the other person has just said. Now, if you’re on the receiving end of this, you just know that somebody has been on a course. And you just know that you’re being “techniqued”. And nobody wants to be “techniqued”.

Where this just knowing, feeling, wisdom comes from is it’s rooted in our survival brain or the limbic system. Which is different from our thinking brain or our smart brain. Our smart brain is the rational side of us. We’ve talked about it before. Interestingly though, the smart brain or the thinking brain has developed and is somewhere between 2 and 3 million years old. The limbic or the survival brain, on the other hand, is closer to 150 million years old. And it’s kept us alive as a species for this long. So it understands and knows a thing or two. If you like the thinking brain is more like the young Skywalker and the feeling brain is Yoda.

And it’s this tacit wisdom, which is linked into the limbic system, which is the source of all emotional intelligence. It’s hardwired into our DNA. And as we know, it’s where real trust and influence is built through our ability to connect or disconnect with other people. Very bluntly, this hundred and 50 million year old system is essentially scanning every moment to understand whether somebody is a friend or a foe. And whether they’ll be open for influence or not.

Recently, my wife lost a ring. It was a very important ring for her. A Sapphire ring, which she’d received on our 10th anniversary. And the event was a real source of loss for her. Needless to say, most people in her circle knew about the loss of the ring. And what’s interesting is to see how people responded or reacted to it.

Most people reacted in a very similar way, which was to reassure. “Oh, just trust it will show up”, “I’m sure. It’ll turn up one day”, “You’ll find it somewhere”. Often, it was backed up by a story of a similar success that this person knew of, where something had been returned after an absence unexpectedly. It’s easy to see the good intention behind this, what people are doing, and what they’re trying to do, is they’re trying to demonstrate compassion. And they’re trying to demonstrate empathy. And they’re trying to, good intentionally, make my wife in this instance feel good. The impact, however, on the other side is that it doesn’t work, because if you knew the story, there’s not a hope in hell that this is going to be found.

So therefore, the story that they’re trying to share to reassure is just not credible. And the limbic system knows this. And actually when we do this for other people, what we’re really trying to do is to make ourselves feel comfortable, as well as the other person. You know, that scene in the movie, Philadelphia, where the librarian comes up to the Tom Hanks character, who’s got AIDS and says, “wouldn’t you be more comfortable somewhere else?” To which the Tom Hanks character replies, “Would you be more comfortable?”
It’s actually counter-intuitive, but actually the better thing, and what would have made my wife feel much more connected to the other person, is just simply to hold the space for her and to honour the silence. Because that’s what they really need in these moments, what the person needs is to feel understood. To feel heard. To be able to express themselves. And to have the space and liberty to do that. Meanwhile, our good intentions get in the way when we’re trying to make ourselves feel comfortable thinking that that’s going to make the other person feel comfortable.

Connection is built at this limbic level. Our habit is to have a discomfort around silence and also an impulse to try to solve the other person’s problem. In order to really deeply build connection with somebody, one that’s meaningful, we need to suspend our own needs.

As we go forward, we’re going to have many difficult situations, uncomfortable interactions, that we encounter as leaders. Both in our working environment with our colleagues, but also at home. And here are a couple of things we can do to really try to build deeper connection with somebody on the other side. We need to listen, but we need to listen specifically by placing our attention on two things. If we just pay attention to, and listen for, what their concerns are and give them the space to express that. And also what their intentions,or good intentions, are.

What it will do is it will have two impacts. The first impact it will have is by simply doing that, focusing on them and their good intentions and their concerns, it changes entirely the way in which we neurologically show up. And that is picked up by the limbic system on their side, which just knows. And that allows the limbic system to open and the connection between us to deepen.

Two things that make it very, very difficult to do this successfully. The first is, as you’re paying attention and trying to do this, your problem solving mind will be coming up with lots of solutions.

And the second thing is, as you’re listening, it’s almost impossible with our experience not to have a mirror story. And the temptation is to share the mirror story. It may seem like a good idea to do, but if we can suspend both of those things and just put our attention purely on the other person, connection grows.

It’s a reversal of the old cliche. Don’t just do something, stand there, because sometimes it’s just enough.

Until next time, stay safe. Stay sane. Stay connected.

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