Connecting with the people around us, wherever we may be, is an important part of being present in our lives.
A little bit about myself. I am not (as far as I know) one of those people that has what is referred to as a “Resting b*tch face“.*
However, I do have at times what I would call a “Resting poker face“. That is, I am hard to read. My high school accounting teacher described me as such:
“I would finish teaching a [*complicated accounting topic*] and then look around the class. I’d note that Liz had understood but that Sarah was confused. Then I would look at you… and have no idea.”
Unfortunately I do not play poker. But because of my “Resting poker face“, I am told I can look, well, a little serious. In fact, when I smile, people get excited and compliment me on how great my smile is. I think what they are really saying is:
“You look so much more friendly when you smile!”
Along with my “Resting poker / unfriendly face“, I am somewhat introverted and tend to be reserved around people that I do not know well. I don’t strike up conversations with strangers and I’m often lost in my own thoughts. I’m certainly not the life of the party, in fact you may struggle to recall if I was even there (unless we’d exchanged smiles).
However, regardless of whether you’re introverted and poker-faced like me, or an extroverted social butterfly, we both share a need for connection.
* Resting b*tch face: a facial expression that unintentionally appears as if a person is angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous.
The Importance of Connection
“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”Brené Brown
As human beings, an important part of happiness is feeling connected with others. Extroverted people need higher doses than introverts, but we all need our regular doses of connection.
When we are connected we feel valued and acknowledged by our fellow human beings. By contrast, feeling socially excluded or ignored, even by strangers, has a significant impact on our sense of belonging and self-worth.
If you’re lucky, you have a good base of friends and family that you feel connected to. However, to truly be connected and present in our lives, we need to be able to connect wherever we are.
This includes being able to connect with people that you do not have a close, personal relationship with. These are often the people you see most often. For example, people such as colleagues, fellow commuters, neighbours and service providers (the bus driver, the cleaner in your building, the guy that sells you coffee).
Being connected involves being present and making human connection, in contrast to being indifferent to those around you because you are lost in your own worries / wondering if that guy from your Tinder date is finally going to call you (PS: if it’s been a week, stop wondering – he isn’t).
If you are like me, you do not ignore people deliberately. You are just caught up in your own world or don’t want to bother other people. But over time, if we continue acting this way, we convey the message that the human beings around us are not important. We send a message of grand indifference.
How We Convey Indifference
“Buying a newspaper, a cup of coffee, or groceries can feel businesslike and impersonal. Many of us are so caught up in our own lives, so rushed and preoccupied, that we acknowledge the people we are interacting with only instrumentally—as a means to an end. We fail to see them as individuals.”Emily Esfahani Smith – “Power of Happiness.”
With our busy modern lives, we can increasingly find ourselves disconnected from those around us. Although often unintentional, it is all too easy to convey indifference. This can include not just when we fail to make eye contact with the coffee guy because we’re *busy* checking our Instagram likes or emails, but in our personal lives because we are rushing and distracted.
Indifference in the workplace:
“The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connection.”Robin S. Sharma
A close friend once told me how working as an office receptionist, one of the hardest parts of the job was seeing people head out to lunch without saying anything to her. As if she didn’t exist. Service providers such as cleaners and drivers can feel this way too. The unseen members of society.
Another common occurrence in the workplace is when colleagues or employees are treated as if they are just cogs in the giant wheel of productivity and getting things done. The manager ask-shouting “John, where is that report? It was due yesterday!”, instead of the two extra minutes it takes to form a human connection and ask John about his weekend (and discover his kid got sick, hence the report is late).
I have to admit that I am also guilty of this sometimes. I have a tendency to be a poker faced, efficiency focussed, “let’s get down to business” person. “Ok, enough about your sick kid, let’s talk about the report!”.
But I am learning more and more that small-talk and connection matters. Because whatever the type of transaction you are engaged in, if is with another person, that person wants to be treated like a human being. Not a report producing robot.
When people feel valued and recognized by others, they feel motivated and derive greater satisfaction from what they do. To get the best from others and from ourselves, we first need to connect.
Indifference at home:
“To be loved means to be recognized as existing.”Thich Nhat Hanh
We also often unintentionally convey indifference to our loved ones. When you’re busy with that report for work and tell your sick kid “Go watch The Wiggles and see if that makes you feel better!” When you’re exhausted from a long day and don’t take the time to ask your partner why they’re so quiet. When your friend is talking and instead of listening, you’re busy mentally revising your enormous to-do list.
With loved ones, we need to be able to connect regardless of how busy, tired or distracted we might be.
It’s easy to get caught up in our busy lives. Time can fly by and we often don’t pause to take stock until it’s too late – we suddenly realize our kids don’t talk to us much anymore or that there’s an emotional gulf with our partners. It’s important to consciously make time everyday to pause, breath and connect with our loved ones.
How To Connect
A true connection is one that transmits positive energy between the people involved.
Making a connection need not involve a great amount of time. There is no need to talk the ear off the coffee guy in order to make the transaction more human – he has a job to do and a line of impatient, caffeine deprived customers.
Likewise, there is no need to (in fact, please do not) stare or smile at a person to the point of making them uncomfortable. If a person does not want to meet your gaze or return your smile, no worries. It’s about how you choose to act, not how people may choose to react.
Connecting requires tact and sensitivity, it’s not intended to invade privacy. For example, some people prefer to keep their work life and private lives separate and don’t want to be engaged in a uncomfortable, personal conversations by workmates.
Culture and context matter too. For example, the workplace is after all a place to.. work (right?). We don’t need to spend an hour gossiping before we get around to the important matter of where is that overdue report. Likewise in countries with more open cultures, it is more common to chat with the waiter or neighbour than in other more reserved cultures.
Making a connection need not invade privacy, breach social norms, nor be overly long.
A human connection can be as simple as eye contact, a smile, a compliment, a thank you or a comment on the weather. If a colleague looks upset, it can be a polite inquiry as to whether s/he is okay. It can be looking up from your phone on the bus to notice that a pregnant or elderly person needs your seat. Or offering help to someone with their bags. Likewise thanking the cleaner or driver for having contributed to your day. Or giving a heartfelt hug to your daughter or partner.
At its heart, a connection is not so much what you say but the body language and presence to acknowledge “I see you. You matter”.
Because they do matter. We all matter. The guy serving your coffee matters. The person driving the bus matters. The driver who stopped to let you cross the road matters. All the people who contribute to your day matter. Acting as though they are not there does not negate their existence, but it does reflect the fact that you are not present and connected in your own life.
To contribute to a sense of community and belonging, we all need to work on building connection and becoming conscious of the ways in which we are conveying indifference.
Connect Wherever You Are
“We are all the leaves of one tree. We are all the waves of one sea.”Thich Nhat Hanh
Start today by being more present and connected. Look up from your phone / newspaper / admiring your sneakers to simply acknowledge and connect with the people around you. Smile even – you look so much more friendly when you smile!
And then can you please get back to that report, which by the way was due yesterday.