All differences in the world are of degree, and not of kind,
because oneness is the secret of everything.
With all of the differences in cultures and personalities and opinions and thoughts, it's no surprise that we often don't really understand other people. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it's hard to connect with someone because you are so, well, different. If you've ever experienced this before (and most of us have), you know how frustrating it can be. No matter how much you might want to connect with some people, it's not always possible. Sometimes it seems as though there are rivers and streams and entire oceans between you and another person. But personal connections are pretty important to our happiness. So what to do?
First, we need to give some thought to why we have trouble connecting with those who are different than us... I'm going to state right now that I'm not the best at connecting with other people. When I'm in the mood or making an effort, I'm pretty good at it, but those moments are more rare than they probably should be. However, being the way I am sometimes, I know that it can be difficult to forge connections with others and I think I have some ideas on how I can improve my interactions. Hopefully these suggestions will help you out too. When you're struggling to make a connection, especially with someone who is very different from you, here's my advice:
The Six Steps for Making a Connection
- Figure out why you want to connect. This first step is a vital one. First, before anything else, you need to figure out why you want to connect with this person. Do you want to connect with him/her because s/he is a coworker you have to be around often? Do you want to create a romantic connection with this person? Do you want to connect on a level that will allow you both to get something out of the relationship? Give some serious thought to this because it's very important to understand the why before you understand the how. Wanting to connect with a coworker on a basic level is very different than wanting to connect with a best friend. There are so many different levels on which we can connect with other people. There's no right or wrong level, but you should definitely assess what level of connection you want to have before you move forward.
- Be open and honest about connecting. Don't try to do this on your own. It's really important that you open up to the other person and let him/her know that you'd like to have a better connection. Let him or her know that you want to work on it and you're going to do whatever you can to work towards a better relationship. Depending on the situation, you'll probably want to word this differently. I'd advise not using phrases like "I like to have a deeper connection with you" with someone like your boss or "I think understanding one another better will help us be more productive in the office" with your spouse (unless, of course, you happen to work with your spouse...). Give some thought to how you want to go about bringing up the topic, considering the situation, the other person, and the relationship you want to have with that person. The more open you are, the more likely you'll be to forge a greater bond with that person.
- Determine what walls you might have up. It's always easy to look at the other person and say something like, "I can't connect with him/her because..." It's a lot more difficult to look at yourself and figure out what you might need to improve upon. I have all sorts of walls up -- blocking people out from all different angles -- and I know that it's up to me to address those barriers if I want to figure out how to connect better with others. One of the best ways to deal with this step is to get yourself an awesome therapist. If that isn't an option for you, I'd suggest doing some soul searching to see if perhaps you have some walls in place that others find hard to break through. It's easy to point fingers and say that the other person is difficult to connect with (and, yes, sometimes this is in the case), but often connecting with someone (or lack of connecting) has to do with both people. Looking at yourself can be a great way to understand at least your contribution to the situation.
- Tear those walls down if you can. Once you've figured out that maybe you have something to do with the reason you and another aren't able to connect, you need to work on those issues. Whatever they may be, there's got to be a way to work on them. Again, therapy is great for this. Remember, being conscious of the walls you have up is a great first step and you should be proud of yourself for getting to the point where you actually care enough to think about what you might need to change. However, it's important to actually work on these things after you've acknowledged them. This is definitely one of the hardest steps (for me, at least), but it's the one that can make a HUGE difference in your relationships. In fact, sometimes, if you manage to complete this step, you'll find that a connection has been made. More often than not, I find that I'm the one who is holding back from connecting with others. However, if this isn't you, or if, for whatever reason, you cannot remove certain walls completely, you'll want to move on to #5.
- Ask what's holding others back. Before you give this step a shot, remember not to assume anything. It might seem obvious that someone else has barriers up for a specific reason, but making assumptions about why another person acts is usually a very bad idea. (Trust me, this usually doesn't go over well, even if you're right about why they are doing what they are doing.) Since assumptions are dangerous in almost any form, it's best to flat out ask someone why they are holding back from connecting with you. Yes, this is probably awkward, and may seem nearly impossible when it comes to dealing with those you aren't particularly close with, but, believe me, asking is a lot better than assuming. If you make the wrong assumption, you might be doing more harm than good. And, as awkward as it might seem, you'll feel a lot better when you've reached out of your comfort zone to make a connection with someone else.
- Attempt to break through barriers. Once you've clarified what's holding someone else back, do whatever you can to work on breaking through those barriers. How will you know what to do? Ask! No person is the same so something that might be helpful for creating a connection with one person might be really uncool with another person. In order to work on connecting with someone, you need to figure out what would work for them. Reach out and ask him or her what would help to create a stronger connection. Ask if you can help him or her in some way and offer to be open-minded to any and all suggestions. (Of course, don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but do be open to doing things someone else's way.) Communication, connecting, and improving relationships takes (at least) two people, so put in all the effort you can and ask the other person to put in effort as well. The real key here is to be open and honest about establishing a connection and, after that groundwork has been laid, to really work on creating that connection. The hard work will pay off.
Anyone who knows me knows I'm not exactly a people person. I'm definitely not the type to reach out and make connections with people unless I really feel there is a good reason to. However, I think this holds me back in a lot of ways and I'd like to become better at forging connections and strengthening bonds with others. I'm hoping these six steps will really help me work on this and, for those of you who aren't all that great at connecting, I hope they help you too. Clearly I'm no expert on the subject so I'd love to know what advice you have for connecting with others.
How do you connect with other people?
What would you add to the six steps I've listed here?
[Note: Today I was fortunate to be featured as a guest blogger on the wonderful site The Happy Self. Check out my post "If Life Is a Classroom, You Better Sit in the Front" and take a look around at all of the other awesome posts on The Happy Self.]