In our age of social media, we should be better connected than ever. However, we all know that having 500 Facebook Friends or 1000 LinkedIn followers or even Snap Chatting a picture of every activity we are involved in does not make for true friendship. Isn’t it strange that in our electronically connected world, people seem more disconnected than ever? It seems friendships that are true and deep are less common than ever.
My wife, Vicki, and I have discussed this quite a bit, and one of our goals for the coming year is to cultivate deeper friendships. We want to slow down and pay attention to the people around us. We want to get to know those who come into our lives. We want to value others and form better friendships.
How do we do this? Well, I don’t have that all figured out, but I have been learning some things from those around me who are good at it.
Here are 12 things I am learning to help make genuine connections and foster friendships with others:
1. Connecting requires purposeful, directed energy. John Maxwell has a great book called “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”. This book highlights the need to be purposeful and expend energy to connect. He advocates preparing, learning about people, planning to recognize people, spending time with them, and focusing on creating relationships. Like much of life, being purposeful rather than reactionary is a key to truly connecting.
2. Your motives have to be right. There is no substitute for being real and for having genuine care and compassion for others. If you are still evaluating everything based on what-is-in-it-for-me, people will see you as a fake. If you don’t have a foundation that includes “love your neighbor as yourself”, and continuous reaffirming of this very lofty goal, you will fall short.
3. Connecting is giving. True connections don’t happen without giving of yourself. You have to give time, interest, thoughtfulness, and effort. True friendship sets aside its own plans or interests for those of others. True friends go beyond asking what they can do to help, and simply find ways to help, to reach out, to encourage.
4. You have to take initiative. Expecting the other person to reach out never works. You have to take the initiative to connect. I think back to things my kids used to say once in a while, like, “I never get invited”, or “They never even say hi to me in the hallway”. My answer would always be, “Well, did you say hi to them?”
5. You can’t be thin skinned. People say things they don’t really mean and situations are often misunderstood. You have to let go of the junk and focus on the good!
6. Connecting necessitates sharing of yourself and being vulnerable. Listening to others, empathizing with their situation, and sharing of your own failure or experience can go a long way beyond a surface relationship. One of my favorite uncles, Uncle Lee, was a busy surgeon. One weekend when he came to visit, my 7th grade history assignment was to learn one Indian tribe for each state in the US, with a big test on Monday. I remember him sitting on the kitchen floor with me for hours teaching me to memorize by association just like he did in medical school.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask. I worked with a sales coach and friend who once told me that if people mention a situation, it probably means they are looking to talk about it. You have to be careful, but often it means they need someone to care enough to ask. This can be a great door opener.
8. Connect with touch. We have all heard this before, but a firm handshake, a hug, a hand on the shoulder to encourage or praise, all go a long way.
9. Be positive, enthusiastic, and laugh. This is just a good rule for living. I know I often get caught up in business, goals and achievement. In my intense focus, I forget to have some fun. Bringing a positive outlook and making others laugh is rare these days, but important. Good friends make us laugh!
10. Ask questions and express interest. I distinctly remember another uncle, my Uncle Stan as I was growing up. He was a very successful business executive, but he always took time when visiting to show interest in me. Just the several minutes he took to ask about my life made a huge impression on me as a kid. I always came away from talking with him feeling that he valued me as a person and cared. I have a hunch his ability to connect with people this way is also part of what made him successful in business.
11. To connect, we have to remember. I am continually working at this, and hopefully improving. People feel valued when you remember names, remember family members, and remember situations. And if you can’t remember, it is worth the effort to take notes!
12. Connecting requires appreciation. Don’t forget to be thankful. Take a few minutes and be purposeful in expressing gratitude. Single out something and express appreciation to the person you are connecting with. Thanks for understanding. Thanks for bringing this up. Thanks for being here.
Creating lasting relationships is not as easy as it seems it should be. I am learning to stretch beyond my own sometimes self-absorbed person and create better friendships. Let’s make 2017 a year filled with friends, family, and truly caring for those around us.