In the middle of the three levels of connection, we have connecting to others. When we’re looking at connection, either as individuals or as organisations, this is where we often start.
Connecting meaningfully to other people is crucially important to our happiness, health and wellbeing. That’s not something to argue against. What I would argue against is that we start there.
For authentic connections to others to be established and to last, we have to know who we ourselves are – we have to connect to our self and understand what we are about. Otherwise the result is something we’ve all experienced: a friend or colleague that you appear to know, but when you think about it … you barely know them at all. While these ‘weak ties’ are important in sustaining us in everyday life, in personal and professional contexts stronger ties are needed to keep us sustained.
We also need to have a clear picture of the system we and the other people are working within. Professional systems like workplaces or online systems like social media can bring people together who, normally, would never meet or have any shared interests. Identifying what we have in common – the context we are working within – facilitates greater connection because now we ‘get it’; we are all being affected by the dynamics that surround us. And the context and dynamics that influence our behaviour need to be made visible, so that, after connection, we can play ball with the next pit stop on the liberating path, compassion.
When these two other levels of connecting aren’t addressed – connecting to our true self and connecting to the system we’re in – it’s difficult to benefit from the full, rich rewards that connecting to others can bring. This is because we aren’t able to be fully aware of what those rewards are. We’re too busy assuming everything other people do is a reflection of ourselves.
Perhaps you are a creative person looking to set up as self-employed. You don’t know what you really want from the experience, and you don’t know the reality of the market you want to go into. Each time you see someone on Instagram talking about their own business, you doubt yourself and think, “Should I do what they do?” – or worse, “It’s easy for them, because they’ve got X Y Z”. The result is you miss out on the opportunity to learn from their experience and connect with them professionally because you aren’t connected to your true self or the system you are both operating within.
Perhaps in an organisation you have an ‘unmanageable’ employee. They’re talented, but every time you talk to them you feel yourself getting angry at their attitude. You don’t know how to manage them, and you don’t see what the problem is with them just shutting up and getting on with what they’re told. The result is you miss out on developing and retaining raw creative talent because you aren’t connected to yourself as a leader, and you’re not connected to the system you’re in – which might feel very different to a manager compared with an employee.
This barrier of seeing the actions of others as a judgement upon ourselves is the biggest obstacle for individuals and organisations to overcome in connecting with others. That’s why I rarely start here in my consulting and coaching approach; it’s like tackling Kilimanjaro before you’ve done the Three Peaks.
If you’re finding connection to others challenging, either as an individual practitioner or within an organisation, you can revisit this simple imaginative exercise. I also recommend you take a step back, and spend some time connecting to yourself and the system you’re in.
Because it’s a lot easier to build meaningful, fruitful relationships when you know yourself and you know what’s going on around you.