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Connecting at a Deeper Level

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On my voicemail message, I make it clear that I hate talking on the phone. I encourage people to either text me or email. “If you choose to leave me a message I will do my best to eventually get back to you, but no promises. For faster connection, please text or email.” This often gets a chuckle and people will sometimes leave a message. However, if they really want to get a hold of me, they text and email as well, just in case I’m serious, which I am. (Did I mention I hate talking on the phone?)

I’ve been wondering lately if my aversion to the talking on the phone is a symptom of not wanting to really connect, not wanting to be vulnerable. What am I avoiding? Perhaps, as an introvert, I’ve just had enough of people. Texting and email can keep things at a shallower, much safer level. Maybe I’m just tired, in general, and don’t have the energy for any more relationships and text or email is just my way of keeping things quick and easy and on the surface. It could just be that I find email and text more efficient. With email and text, I can multitask, whereas a call requires the vulnerability of a good give and take conversation.

I blame technology. Mobile phones, social media, the internet—we’ve made connecting easier, while our ability to hold a meaningful conversation and cultivate real relationship atrophies like an unused muscle. Yet, even though technology is an easy target for my blame, I am still responsible for how I use or misuse it.

How might connecting at a deeper level affect our ability to lead and influence others? How might fostering real connection increase something as mundane, yet critical, as our sales closing ratio? How might having a genuine conversation aid us in leading others to do their best work and help us build the kind of shop that we can be proud of?

As Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, writes, “It is not a moment to reject technology but to find ourselves... to acknowledge the unintended consequences of technologies to which we are vulnerable, to respect the resilience that has always been ours.”

Here are a handful of tools I’m going to use this month to deepen my ability to connect.

Curiosity.

One of the best things we can do to foster real connection is to be genuinely curious about what another person says. I recently had a friend tell me how much they like black and white movies. While I love movies, I have almost no interest in older films. My first reaction, then,  was to tease him and remind him how old that makes him sound. Instead I chose curiosity: “Why do you like black and white films so much?” That question led to a lot of learning on my part and, because it was something of great interest to him, it deepened our friendship. In the end, he loaned me three of his favorite films, which will likely open up even more conversation.

Solitude.

At first, this may seem like the opposite of connecting but really, it’s the basis of it. Often, we are unable to connect deeply or hold a significant conversation because we don’t really know who we are or what we think. Taking time to be alone is actually a great way to get grounded in who we are and what we think. When was the last time you had even a few hours to yourself to just be? When we are alone, we have an opportunity to discover who we are and what is really important to us.

Asking open-ended questions.

This goes hand in hand with being curious. Next time you ask a question, see if it can be answered with a yes or no response. Or does the very question open the conversation up? For instance, if we ask a customer, “Do you like how this car drives?” They can answer with a yes or no and it’s a dead end. Try, “What do you like about this car?” That opens up the conversation into all kinds of directions. Once it is answered, you can then follow up with more open-ended questions as you stay curious in the conversation.

Putting our phones away.

When was the last time you spent a significant amount of time without checking a device? For many, myself included, this can be a panic-inducing experience. I’ve become so afraid I’ll miss something important if I don’t have my phone nearby and check it often. But, in reality, the device can be the cause of me missing what is really important. If we’re constantly checking our phones when a customer, a team member or, even worse, a family member are right in front of us, what are we communicating to them? Basically, there’s someone or something more important that might “pop up” as an alert on my phone and I need to be ready to stop this conversation at any moment to tend to this urgent matter. It’s usually never urgent or more important than the person right in front of me.

Solitude. Curiosity. Open-ended questions. Putting our phones away. Four tools that can help us foster real connection in a world that wants to drive us toward a shallow, distracted existence. I’m committed to using all four this month, even though I’m not yet ready to change my voicemail message. Not yet. So, don’t call me. But feel free to email me any feedback on this column and, who knows, maybe we’ll eventually have a real conversation.

 

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