By JOSEPH TAN
“I am a rock, I am an island.” – Paul Simon
If independence and freedom are the hallmarks of a liberated individual, why then is there still a need to connect with another person?
Or maybe there might not be a need to connect after all – as I am writing this article, I admit that I do not know everyone who is living on the same street as I do. Why is that?
Because I have everything that I need in my home, there is really no need for me to reach out to my neighbours (unless I need to borrow something).
Here’s the irony – because I live in a connected world (digitally), there is less of a need for me to connect (physically). There could be those who are more comfortable with Facebook rather than face-look!
The failure to connect stems from our success in the following three areas:
The success of digital pervasiveness
The ease with which we can digitally connect in today’s technology-laden world is both a blessing and a curse. The curse is that of superficiality and anonymity.
Back in the days of face-to-face interactions, there was a lot more care taken in choosing and crafting the words that we speak because communication involves our body language, tone of voice, eye contact and other mannerisms.
However, much of these personal elements are now filtered by the screen and the keyboard. In other words, the value of personal connection has been diluted by the ease of digital connection.
From the perspective of human nature, when we put effort into something, we value it. If digital connection is so pervasive and cheaply available, it now requires very little effort to communicate – I can type and also disguise my intentions behind the safety and comfort of my five-inch smartphone screen without having to worry about the tone of my voice or the non-verbal part of the communication process.
If non-verbal cues form more than 50% of my communication impact, then we may have missed out on the value of real connection if the digital portion begins to drown out the physical face-to-face factors.
The success of high productivity
In my consulting assignments with organisational leaders, they are often caught in a “performance paradox” – how do I get my employees to perform at a higher level and yet enjoy their job at the same time?
Much of what creates high performance today is also a significant source of stress and frustration.
Hence, employees end up being performance-driven but have something missing in terms of organisation culture. In other words, the role has overcrowded the soul.
The failure to connect in this sense is captured in the following phrase – most unresolved conflicts stem from unresolved conversations.
Somehow, we need to recapture once again the simplicity of having regular conversations rather than just pushing communication.
Productivity becomes dry and clinical when employees just communicate with each other without the effort to converse.
Instead of just focusing on getting things done, are we mindful of getting things done in a persuasive and motivating manner? If higher productivity is the single most absorbing goal, the pleasures of conversation are then sacrificed on the altar of quick results.
However, if organisations are striving towards sustainable performance, then we need to realise that culture is built one conversation at a time.
The success of instant gratification
We live in an “instant-on” environment. We want answers, and we want them now. In fact, my friend in Gallup recently mentioned that on average, a person looks at his or her smartphone 67 times a day.
We are constantly on the lookout for replied messages. Anything that comes back to me the next day is considered unacceptable – just because I press the “send” button, I would expect you to read it immediately and take action quickly.
Now, this is acceptable in the case of certain team situations which require the dynamics of fast response, but if this becomes the interaction habit we impose on others, then we may risk creating a misunderstanding or conflict.
This “give-it-to-me-now” culture works against a fundamental principle of effective communication – understanding another human being takes time.
When we have a utilitarian mentality towards relationships, then the interaction becomes transactional rather than transformational.
The failure to connect happens when we look for short-cuts in reaching out to another person, not realising that the complexities of emotions and the individual personality requires a lot of understanding and hard work. Without the commitment to connect, there can be no fruits of loyalty and faithfulness.
What can we do to stem the tide of “communication success” so that we are mindful of the failure to connect on a personal level?
Here are three personal “connecting habits” for your consideration:
- Connecting habit No. 1: Take time to listen (not just to hear)
When connecting with someone, avoid the habit of constantly thinking of what to say next. Instead, learn to ask open-ended questions that invite the sharing of emotions and deeper perspectives.
Seeking first to understand through active listening is a sure way to reach a person’s heart. I beg to differ with the axiom stating that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – I would venture to say that the best way to anyone’s heart is through your ears.
- Connecting habit No. 2: Take time to think (not just to talk)
We live in a “noisy” culture. Most restaurants are filled with noise – there is plenty of chatter and even if nobody is talking, there is the towering presence of TV screens hanging from almost every corner of the ceiling!
Shopping centres are filled with loud, intrusive music. There is so much noise that sometimes, I can’t hear myself think.
So, the next time you want to connect with someone, look for a quiet place – perhaps even taking a walk in the park so that as you connect, you also have time to reflect and think. A lot of what needs to be said can be more impactful if we inculcate the habit of regular reflection and control of what we want to say through the filters of wisdom.
- Connecting habit No. 3: Take time to invest (not just to impose)
At the heart of every successful connection is an attitude of giving – being blessed more by giving than receiving. If I approach every conversation with the mindset of – “What can I invest into this person’s life?” rather than “What can I get out of this relationship?”, then the whole interaction takes a new, refreshing dimension.
In other words, you will end up being an energy-giver rather an energy-taker. Consider the other person’s needs, preferences and challenges in life:
“What can I do to help him to become better….?”
As you can see, all of the above “connecting habits” take up the most precious commodity we all have – TIME. The challenge is this – how would you spend it? To merely communicate or to meaningfully connect?
Joseph Tan is the CEO of Leaderonomics Centre of Engagement Excellence. He is passionate about ensuring all Malaysian employees are fully-engaged in their work and with their organisations. If you would like to enhance the engagement levels at your organisation, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. For more Be a Leader articles, click here.
Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 7 March 2015