“We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.” - Albert Schweitzer
We have less personal connection between one another today than we did 30 years ago. So says the study, Social Isolation in America, which reports that in 1985, people reporting having three people with whom they could share a personal problem. By 2004, that numbers had decreased to one person.
Although there is debate about social isolation, loneliness and our online connections, many see a disturbing trend in the modern life connection. It’s a mile wide and an inch deep.
According to the powerful film, “The Innovation of Loneliness,” social networks let us consistently put ourselves first, in a stream of well-edited monologue, only to be superficially validated as we superficially validate others.
This makes the connection, the conversation, less real but instantly gratifying. However, what everybody needs at the most basic, soulful level is not instant gratification; they need to be understood. It’s an essential part of not being alone in the world.
This is why Stephen Covey says that if you want to influence people you must stop listening with an intent to reply. He says, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”
In our monologue v. monologue social media universe, this rarely happens. And that is unfortunate because deep personal connections are good for your mind, body and soul.
According to this Psychology Today article, Connect to Thrive: “Strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity and strengthens our immune system. People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, are more empathetic to others, more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. Social connected-ness therefore generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”
So, how do you forge deeper bonds in today’s high tech world? It’s very simple. Seeking to understand starts with listening. And according to the Harvard Business Review contributor Peter Bregman, there is a reason why so few listen. “Listening is much harder than speaking. We have to allow things we might disagree with to hang in the air. We have to move over a little and create space for those things to linger.”
Here is a summary of his advice on how to make a true connection:
Really listen. Which means focusing on what the other person is saying and not what you will say in return. Truly listening also means not immediately relating their experiences to your own. One must just empathize -- be in their shoes, their lives and their moment.
Truly Relate. Relation is a comprehension of what it must be like and feel like, to either be where they are in life or think what they think about an issue. Relating is taking on what a person says and turning it in your mind to see it from different angles. Stephen Covey tells us it is NOT seeing it through an autobiographical lens. If a person has cancer, relating a story about your own, or your sister’s, cancer may feel like relating, but it’s not. You can use that information and understanding to delve further into their experience. But your experience is not their experience.
Ask questions. Seek to understand their lives, thoughts and passions more deeply. Take the time to explore and learn. Be open and curious about their experiences in the world. Conversations, dialogues, are not share-offs or rotating monologues. Let questions lead to deeper questions and topics. Create a new shared experience together by seeking mutual understanding.