How to Make Real Connections
Not that long ago, artificial intelligence only existed in sci-fi films; now it’s a part of everyday life. And it’s not only impacting how you shop, drive, and keep in touch with people, but also your job. There are some dire predictions out there about how many jobs will be lost to automation in the next 10 years. And even if your job won’t be replaced by a machine, automation has already dramatically changed the way you work today compared to 10 years ago (as Janet Salm at the Strada Institute for the Future of Work recently pointed out to me).
There is one thing, though, that a machine can never replace: your humanity. By definition, A.I. is artificial; only real human beings can be real human beings.
The problem is we’ve gotten really good at being fake human beings.
Our social media culture, of course, contributes. Maybe you’ve seen some of the articles on how technology hurts us. Teenagers nowadays experience increased depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness due to social media and texting. We aren’t learning how to make and maintain friendships, how to read nonverbal cues, or even how to be genuine—skills we used to pick up naturally. Despite being more “connected” than ever, we experience more loneliness because the connections aren’t based on reality.
I’m not immune to these effects either! I can find myself wallowing in worry over what people think of me or my opinions or my lifestyle. Or expecting to be judged on my communication skills, since that’s what I do for a living. Or wondering if I’m measuring up to someone else’s definition of success.
All this comparing pulls us back from each other. Yet our ability to connect is the one thing we’ve got! It’s the one thing machine learning can’t replace or outdo. As a society, we are desperate for real connection with real human beings.
Being real takes courage. It also takes communication skills. Skills we’ve lost in recent generations. If you’re ready for real connection with real human beings, here are 7 things to start doing consistently:
1. Show up.
If you can show up physically, do it! There’s no substitute for face-to-face interactions. But whether you’re with someone literally or virtually, bring your whole self to the interaction. You don’t have to bare your whole self (please don’t!), but do break down those walls you’ve been hiding behind. Bring the real you.
2. Be present.
Tell those obnoxious voices in your head to shut up! Whether you’re thinking of what you’re going to say, worrying how you come across, congratulating yourself on your superiority, or just trying to remember whether you closed the garage door or not, STOP. If you want real connection with a real human being, you need to be with them, not in your head.
3. Be imperfect.
This takes absolutely no effort at all. In fact, it’s your natural state (sorry for the bad news). The hard work lies in giving up the aspiration. Not only is perfection impossible, but everyone knows it’s impossible! So, people don’t trust someone who seems too good to be true. If you want to be a real human being, try to be and do your best. But don’t try to be perfect.
4. Manage your expectations.
Even though you know perfection is impossible, sometimes you still expect it from others. And even though you know we’re all different, sometimes you expect people to be like you. And even though you know there are as many perspectives as people on the planet, sometimes you still expect people to agree with you. (Because of COURSE, you are RIGHT and they are WRONG.) There is so much richness and beauty in our messy differences. That’s how you know a person is real: there is only one of them. Let another’s differences be a contribution, not a liability.
These four tips apply in any situation, including remote connections. When you’re face-to-face, add these three:
5. Stay open.
I don’t just mean “Keep an open mind,” though by all means, do that. Watch your body language and nonverbal communication. Literally remove physical barriers when possible. Actually get on the same side of the table as the other person. Keep your arms open instead of crossed. Open body language sends the message that you are available for connection and you have nothing to hide.
6. Make eye contact.
Really look at people. In the eyes! See them. What color are those eyes, anyway? Does it even register? Eye contact is one of the greatest ways to invest in a relationship (assuming you’re discussing something neutral or positive). And it goes both ways. Eye contact requires two sets of eyeballs. See and let yourself be seen.
Okay, be super careful with this one. Physical touch can backfire. Only touch if you’re comfortable and you’re sure the other person is, too. Usually a handshake is okay. Sometimes a hug or pat on the back. If you get any negative feedback, stop immediately. But man, we have become such a touch-deprived society. And touch is so good for you! There truly is healing power in human touch. And as a real human being, you have that power. Use it for good.
The world needs real human beings. A machine might be able to do your job, but a machine can never be YOU. What we need in our businesses (and nonprofits and government and churches and communities and homes) are real people. People who think. People who feel. People who mess up. And who try again. People who share themselves. And who are willing to connect.
It comes down to communication. Communicate that you are a real person. Communicate that you’re willing to connect with other untidy, fun, imperfect, beautiful, different (and sometimes WRONG, ha), real people. And be you. The world needs you to be YOU.