Building Stronger Connections

May 18, 2020

When we first met, our relationship was not by choice.

 

Alyssa was dating Lamar, and he was best friends with Harrison (Kisha’s husband). We were okay with the arrangement, just as long as we didn’t have to be friends.

 

We were different—from the color of our skin and our taste in music, to family background, education, style, hobbies and professional pursuits. Things in common weren’t obvious.

 

That was nearly 10 years ago. A LOT has changed since then!

 

We can say with confidence that the defining reason we’re friends and business partners today is because we learned how to build strong connections.

 

It took time. And it took practice. 

 

As we look back on those early years of our friendship, we see a pattern formed by three consistent practices. 

 

These practices broadened our perspectives. Brought us closer together. Expanded our ability to walk in the God-kind-of love. Deepened our commitment to learn from and with each other. And enhanced our relationships in every aspect of life.

 

At the heart of each practice is the commitment to connect. They changed our lives, and we believe they’ll change yours too.

 

If there was ever a time where we needed this kind of connection, it’s now! And here’s how to take the first steps.

 

  1. Stop talking! Practice listening well.

You know that hearing and listening are not the same, right? You’ve probably shared that same truth to someone… and probably in a moment of frustration!

 

Kisha and I did not listen well to each other when we first met. 

 

Kisha had a lot of strong opinions, and so did I. We both spoke with confidence and with certitude. Education and experience had made us right about a lot of things and very stuck in our own ideas.

 

There came a time when we both discovered we were struggling with the same problem—our husbands! So we met to do the only thing we could truly agree on: pray. We prayed for God to change them.

 

This prayer backfired in the best way possible!

 

In the moment when we were both quiet before God—listening for a divine solution that would fix our husbands—He nudged our hearts toward the real issue. We realized we were looking for connection from our husbands but really needed the kind of connection that came from friendship with each other.

 

That moment opened our eyes and our ears. We realized that we weren’t listening well to each other. We were just going through the motions.

 

You don’t need this kind of God-moment to be a better listener. But you do need to make a commitment to refine some of your skills. Here are the top four adjustments to make for better listening in personal and professional contexts.

 

  • Zip it! Stop talking. (For real.) Let the other person speak freely and fully in your conversations, especially about difficult subjects. Be engaged. Listen well. 
  • Don’t interrupt. We’re used to interruptions. It’s part of how we live and talk, especially when there are a lot of people in one conversation and the tempo is fast and fun. BUT, this isn’t a best practice for building connection well. When you interrupt someone, it’s like saying, “Hold that thought! What I have to say is way more important!” It sends the message that you’re not interested in what they have to say, and if done often enough, it will break the possibility of connection.
  • Maintain eye contact. No scrolling, searching or people watching! Maintaining steady eye contact is the #1 way of letting someone know they have your attention. 
  • Sum it up. Periodically take time to repeat the important things being shared. This lets the person know you’re with them. It’s also a way to make sure you are actually understanding their perspective.

 

  1. Be curious. Practice asking questions.

You know those awkward moments in conversations where the silence feels just as uncomfortable as walking in wet socks? We do too.

 

It’s usually broken by some brave soul who shares something about themselves. Something they heard… or did... or read... or watched… all in hopes of sparking engagement.  

 

This may work for a time, but to really keep things moving, you need to tap into personal interest. Not yours, but the personal interests of the other people in the conversation.

 

To get people talking, build on what they’ve already said by asking a follow-up question, “WHY?” It’s a question that allows the conversation to go beyond how something was done or what was done into things that are more personal.

 

When you get people talking about WHY, they will often talk about themselves. You’ll learn a lot about who they are, what they like (and dislike) and where they’re going in life. This is how you discover their passions, hobbies, goals, experiences, family and more. It’s also what reveals common points of interest and shared values. 

 

Kisha and I did this by tabling conversations that had to do with work or our husbands. Instead, we asked about the other person. 

 

We explored music and movies, food, travel, dreams and faith. We made sure to let the other person speak and asked follow-up questions to bring clarity and understanding. This was especially helpful when it came to learning about our families and our cultural differences, and really helped us to connect in a more meaningful way.

 

You can invite this kind of connection by doing the same thing. Here are three foolproof conversation starters to get you moving.

 

  • That sounds really amazing! Tell me more.
  • Where did this idea come from? Tell me more.
  • I’d love to hear more about ________________. Please, keep talking!

 

Do you see the pattern? Tell me more is a more conversational way to ask WHY. It’s one of the most valuable tools for building strong connections. Give it a try. Keep asking WHY in as many ways as you can, and you’ll discover connections you never expected.

 

  1. Embrace differences. Practice honoring gifts.

 

Strong connections are based on more than what we have in common. They depend on trust.

 

Trust is what happens when we take the time to build a bridge between what we know and what we don’t know about someone. This always includes things that make us different.

 

Kisha and I encountered our differences long before we discovered what we had in common! But it was those differences that provided the context for asking the best questions. 

 

We connected through things we didn’t understand or even like about the other person. And in this process we learned to honor and embrace our differences.

 

For example, Kisha has a gift for direct communication, and she’s refined this well. Her way of seeing the world brings focus to what should happen next. And she doesn’t mince words! I have a gift for more contextual communication. I often weave seemingly disparate things together to make a point, and I definitely use a lot more words. As we honored these differences—appreciating, acknowledging and making room for these gifts in our relationship—we discovered just how well we could lead, together. She handles action items. I provide context. 

 

This was a discovery process. It was also a process that brought us up close and personal with our own biases. As we worked toward understanding each other, we learned that what set us apart actually creates the most meaningful pathways for connection.

 

You can honor the gifts in others and begin to discover how your differences bring you together by putting a few simple things into practice.

 

  • Acknowledge what you see in someone else. Let them know you see their gift, and it’s GOOD.
  • Encourage them to use their gift. Appreciation is a form of encouragement and it comes in many forms. One of the best ways to say, I appreciate you!, is by inviting people to do what they do best.
  • Celebrate their efforts. It’s not about throwing a party, but about being grateful. Thanking people, especially in front of others, is a form of celebration.

 

 

 

Stronger connections don’t happen by chance. They happen by choice.

 

When you put these ideas into practice, you’re making a choice to build better connections. It’s the best way to build stronger relationships… and to build life well.

 

Until next week, 

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