How to Connect from Six Feet Away—or More

How to Connect from Six Feet Away bean characters

With physical connection now pretty much off the table for most people, we have the opportunity to step back and really ask ourselves: Why do our connections matter to us, and how will we create meaningful ones in our socially distanced world?

Connection is essential for human beings. It’s not a nice to have; we need to feel connected to each other in order fully function. By connection, I mean that people need to sense that they are safe, they are seen for who they are, they belong, and their work matters.

When we were physically closer, those connections happened in a number of ways. There are the obvious ones of being able to have casual and more formal conversations in different settings. We also connect in more subtle ways, watching and listening to others—sometimes from a distance—to assess what they seem to value and whether we trust them or not. Or simply by giving someone a hug or a high five. It’s much harder to get a sense of our place in the world—and feel safe in it—when so many of the social cues we have counted on are missing.

In the absence of our old reliable ways of relating, people fill in the blanks as best they can. All too often, that leads to people taking small snippets of information—like an off-comment on a Zoom call, or not returning emails in a timely manner—and blowing them up into big stories that tend to amplify their fears and concerns (tune into a dialogue about this in October). Whether it’s a manager fretting that she doesn’t know what her team is up to or a younger worker thinking they are shouldering an unfair burden because they don’t have kids at home, people create and react to the stories they tell themselves. The stress of feeling disconnected amplifies this dynamic and energizes this unfortunate and painful downward cycle.

Feeling connected is, well—a feeling. That means that we need to focus on creating positive emotional connections to help people feel more settled and included. It’s important to note that you don’t have to fix people’s problems for them when you connect. Often people avoid inquiring about the challenges that someone is experiencing for fear of feeling like they have to fix something that cannot be fixed. Let’s let that old traditional approach to leadership—and friendship—go. It’s not serving anyone. Set your intention to connect with others simply to let them know that you care about them, you see them and you have compassion for them and whatever they are experiencing. That’s it. And it is more—way more—than enough. It’s what everyone needs right now.

How to Build Emotional Connections

The following are some simple ways to build and reinforce emotional bonds that help to reduce stress and build a greater sense of belonging, even when they are socially distanced—by a few feet or many miles.

Share Stories to Create Connections

Stories are powerful. They evoke complex emotions that greatly impact our sense of the world. That’s why allowing fearful stories to fester drains the energy out of people and organizations. You can create positive connections—and shared energy—by opening meetings or conversations by inviting people to share stories about things that have touched their hearts in positive ways.

Invite people to reflect upon the presence of positive energy in their life by simply asking questions like:

  • “What are you looking forward to?”
  • “What are you thankful for?”
  • “What have you learned, noticed or done recently that made you smile?”

Witness and Listen to Others

As Simone Well writes, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” We’re so distracted with technology and the pace of work, truly listening is rare these days. When someone takes the time to listen without judgment, people feel seen, heard and cared for. That is so important for everyone’s wellbeing. When people share how they are feeling, it can help to release some of the pent-up emotional pressure and create the space for the consideration of what, if anything, can be done to shift difficult situations to a more positive direction. Even when there is little or no room to make a difference, the simple act of compassionately listening to someone without trying to fix or negate the person’s emotions is truly a gift that builds connections.

Open the opportunity for these kinds of heartfelt connections with questions such as:

  • “What are you finding most challenging these days?”
  • “On a scale of 1 – 10, how are you doing right now?”
  • “What is concerning you the most about…”

Acknowledge the Connection

People want to know that they are still on other people’s radar screens when they are not physically present. Letting people know that you are thinking of them—and appreciate them—with small acknowledgments can make a big difference. Focus more on the process than the outcomes by highlighting thoughtful gestures, small accomplishments, effective collaboration and learning from setbacks—rather than waiting for big wins. Even a quick text to check in on someone can lift a person’s spirits.

We are all Connected

I know that there is a lot going on in many people’s lives and making time to reach out to others may feel like another chore. It will be if you look at it that way. Personally, I find that I gain as much as I give when I authentically connect with others. When people know that they matter and they belong, they are likely to feel more committed to—and contribute to—the circles that include them.

If there is one thing we have learned from this pandemic, it is that we are all connected—even when we are six or more feet apart. Caring for connections is caring for the collective that we are all a meaningful part of. When we connect our hearts, we open the door to connecting our minds. That’s the foundation that collective creativity is built upon. That’s what we need to have to create what comes next. Strengthening our connection skills is essential if we want to thrive and feel like we belong in the highly connected future that is emerging all around us. So, who can you connect with today?

Join Our Next Dialogue

Save your seat for our next dialogue with Dianna Anderson, CEO of Cylient. We’ll be discussing how to tune into the hidden story in conversations. Sign up here (for free!) and bring your questions.

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