#connection #empathy

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Social connection should be the top of our daily to do list because it is the foundation of our happiness. Researchers have found that the quality of our connections rather than the quantity is more important when it comes to relationships. Not shocking yet I fear in the world of facebook, twitter, and Instagram that we feel quantity is more important. We need to remember to make spending time with those who are closes to us a priority.

“Social media has given us this idea that we should all have a posse of friends when in reality, if we have one or two really good friends, we are lucky.” – Brené Brown

images-2Connection is our ability to forge meaningful authentic relationships with others. It is the essences of human experience and it gives meaning to our lives; connection is also the anchor to our relationships.

To have a quality and deep relationship we need to utilize our empathy and compassion. Empathy is not a “fuzzy” emotion; it’s a path directly to connectivity. Some people get empathy and sympathy confused. Take the next three minutes to review Brené Brown’s short animated video on the differences between empathy and sympathy.

Science shows us that we are hard wired for empathy. We have circuits in our brains devoted to understand how another person is feeling and to align with them. Sometimes these circuits are closed and need a mental nudge due to our upbringing, other times they are offline – especially when we are stressed.

images-2Actually, there are two types of empathy; affective and cognitive. Affective empathy refers to the physical sensations and feelings we get in response to another’s shared emotions. Cognitive empathy is usually called perspective taking and refers to our ability to identify and understand others’ emotions, needs, and perspectives.

To overcome the barriers to empathy we need to consciously humanize other people in our minds. Here are some thoughts on how we can do this:

images-7Tap into our inner child. Remember when we we’re little and felt comfortable being inquisitive? We used to find other people more interesting than we do now. What happened? Oh yeah…social norms beat it out of us! “Chris, it’s not safe to talk with strangers!” Curiosity expands our cognitive empathy skills. When we talk with people outside our usual social circle, we encounter the lives and perspectives different than our own. We can then experience another person’s needs and perspectives and we expand our worldly view.

images-8Look for commonalities rather than differences. Most of us move through life making unconscious assumptions, use labels to identify people, and yes, even pass judgment. What if we continually challenged our own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what we have in common with people rather than what divides us? If all of us would do this,  it would lead to a social revolution!

images-11Walk a mile in another’s shoes. When George Orwell returned to England in the 1920’s, he purposefully lived as a homeless person so that he could understand and experience what it was like to be a “beggar and a vagabond.” His experiences radically changed his beliefs, priorities, and relationships and provided him unique literary details for his book titled: Down and Out in Paris and London. He was able shift his views on inequality by walking a mile in another’s shoes through using empathy.

images-1Use Channel 2 Listening. Be present to hear what is really going on within another. Mentally trade places with the other person through listening. Ask questions around their perspective. What do they think? How do they feel? What are their ideas? To see, hear, and feel the feelings and needs of another person is to experience them in that very moment. Channel 2 listening is one of the necessary keys to tapping into empathy, the other is vulnerability.

Empathy isn’t only important for individuals to tap into, it is equally important for leaders and organizations to understand the power of its use. In our VUCA times we need to incorporate empathy as a key to business survival because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership.

So, how do we make better connections?

  • Make time. Set regular and reoccurring time slots for your most important relationships. Significant other, kids, family members, close friends. Release your expectations of who you believe they are or should be and remain curious rather than bring in past experiences and bias into your interactions.
  • Be open. Unpack that suitcase of past experiences and toss it. By being open, that suitcase will no longer be required. Are you the same person you were when you first met your spouse, friend, sibling, etc….? When we share your authentic self and can be vulnerable, we create deep and meaningful relationships. Share what has gone well for you but even more importantly, share what makes you human, your miss-steps and failures both small and epic.
  • Be honest about what you want and need. Share your expectations and ask for theirs. This is the number one way to divert disappointment in a relationship. As humans we are brilliant biological creatures but we are not mind readers. Additionally, we need to let go of any desire to be right and telling others what they should do. Accept people for who they are.
  • Give more than you receive. Loose the “what’s in it for me mindset.”  Give your undivided attention, your love, your positive words, your encouragement and your time. These gifts are more valuable than gold.

“What I know is that we’re all interconnected and that’s a really beautiful thing. We have links to everyone else in our lives and in the world. Different people have different journeys for different reasons. You can’t judge, but you can celebrate that there are connections everywhere.” – Jane Seymour

Discover Your Strengths!

images-4Our society doesn’t teach us to focus on our unique and individual strengths, instead it tells us to work hard on our weaknesses. When we were children our teachers, and thus our parents, focused on our weaknesses. Most of us were told at one time to read more, practice writing, learn multiplication, don’t daydream, etc…..fill in the missing skill that you were told by your teacher or parent.

We were told that we must work hard and to focus our primary attention to turn a weakness into a strength. We’ve spent our lives trying to repair flaws, while our natural strengths lie dormant and neglected. This madness needs to stop!

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I’d like to challenge our life long focus on our weaknesses and shift our focus instead to strengths. When something is a true weakness, even with laser like focus, determination, and hard work, it will never turn into a strength. Yes, we will make improvements to a weakness but it will never become a strength. Why? Because a weakness is not a natural talent.

“Strengths are not activities you’re good at, they’re activities that strengthen you. A strength is an activity that before you’re doing it you look forward to doing it; while you’re doing it, time goes by quickly and you can concentrate; after you’ve done it, it seems to fulfill a need of yours.”                             Marcus Buckingham

Years ago I read a couple of books that helped me to shift my paradigm from a life long focus, and unsuccessful improvements to my weaknesses, to one where I understood, focused on, and practiced my strengths. Both books were co-authored by Marcus Buckingham; the first book is titled: First Break All the Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently.  I’m not going to review this book with in this post but for those who are managers or leaders I highly recommend it!

The second book, Now, Discover Your Strengths is based on over two million interviews and 25 years of research to identify the most prevalent of human strengths. The research produced StrengthsFinder which introduces us to 34 dominant themes.

34 Signature Themes

When you purchase the book Now, Discover Your Strengths it comes with an access code to the online StrengthsFinder assessment. The assessment is easy to use and the questions will uncover your top five signature strengths.  The results will also provide you with ideas for action on each of your top five strengths so that you know how to focus on them and to manage around your weaknesses.

By the way, you don’t have to purchase the book to obtain a code. One can be purchased here for only $9.99. However, the book will demonstrate and show you how to leverage your top five strengths for powerful results at three levels: 1) your own development, 2) your success as a leader or manager, and 3) the organization you work for.

“If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather than dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow in their capabilities.”Author unknown. 

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I have suggested to many friends and co-workers to take the StrengthsFinder assessment and every time I hear these types of statements: “Wow!!!! How did they do that? How did they hit the nail on the head with what I like to do and who I am?”  It is almost eery how well the assessment captures your unique natural talents.

So that you get an idea of how the StrenghtFinders assessment can be useful, here are my top five strengths:

  1. Developer – people with this strength recognize and cultivate the potential in others.
  2. Arranger – people with this strength are organized and like to figure out how the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.
  3. Responsibility – people with this strength take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.
  4. Empathy – people with this strength can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others lives or situations.
  5. Relator – people with this strength enjoy close relationships with others. They develop deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.

“Hide not your talents, they for use were made; for what’s a sundial in the shade?”Benjamin Franklin.