We create healthy connections in our lives when we’re actively curious and intentionally present. As HR specialists, connecting with people is literally part of our job.
When we connect and really get to know people, the workplace functions better, people work through their differences, and real meaning emerges.
As we seek opportunities to know people and be present in real time, though, some things get in the way — namely our own attitudes. We mentally check out and write people off.
But, there’s good news — we can change our attitudes!
Here’s an experiment to see how this change works:
Think of two people —
1. A person you want to connect with more (a sibling, parent, or coworker)
2. A person you wish you could connect with less (they’re not your favourite but you need to interact with them to get results)
Could those relationships be healthier? Of course! So, how could you interact with these people in a more curious and present way? Here are three ways that can happen.
3 Tips for Connecting with People
1. Pinpoint the instant when you get “out of the moment.”
Where is the breakdown from being present to checking out?
For some, it’s a reaction to something that triggers you to remove yourself from the present. Maybe you’re on your way to meet someone and traffic makes you late. So, you’re consumed with frustration over the traffic rather than the meeting. Maybe you check an email before you meet someone that sends your mind spinning.
I’ve found that my solution is to focus on the person, not the problem.
In those crucial moments, I’ve been thinking about a quote from Eckhart Tolle, “To love is to recognise yourself in another.” This grounding statement — whether I’m with someone I like or don’t like — encourages us to find something to love in others.
So ask yourself, “How can I recognise myself in the other person?” As you learn to appreciate others, you foster connection.
2. Change “I don’t have time for this” to “I do have time for this.”
Sometimes when we have the chance to connect, we find ourselves thinking, “I don’t have time for this!” Sometimes we regret our lack of time. Other times we’re frustrated with the other person for even trying.
But I’m working to reverse that statement to “I have time for this. In fact, I don’t have time to not have time for this.”
The irony is that what we resist is often what we most need and desire. It’s as if we say, “I don’t have time to connect with you, I’m too busy being lonely.” If we want to connect, we need to recognise our need to connect.
3. Look at people long enough for new beauty to emerge.
If you’ve ever taken an art class, you know this classic assignment — Choose a painting and stare at it for several hours. See what you notice.
Students usually report that new beauty and nuance emerges. Now they have a greater appreciation for that painting.
What if you applied that same assignment your relationships? What if you looked at your spouse without mental noise and judgement? If you really looked at the bully at work, would new beauty and nuance emerge? Try it!
How Connection Affects the Workplace
So, why does this matter in the workplace? In short, when people are connected, they participate.
One of our colleagues tested this in the classroom. For several classes, he arrived early and prepped his materials — he got his flip charts ready, checked the projector connection, and set up his computer. Then, when it was time to start, he simply began, not having greeted people as they entered. He measured how many hand raises and how much discussion took place.
Then, he did another test. In these classes, he had everything ready 30 minutes before it started. As students entered, he shook their hands, looked them in the eyes, greeted them, and asked their names (in other words, he was present and curious). Again, he measured participation.
He found that when he was present with people, there was significantly more participation. Being present made a significant difference in the classroom — and being present makes a significant difference in our lives.
Eckhart Tolle also said, “We teach through our presence. We teach by being.” He defines being present as seeing and hearing without thought and without judgement. At first, I thought he was asking us to be zombies!
He’s not! He’s not asking us to be a doormat. We can still hold people accountable and have crucial conversations — but we need to approach these times without mental noise. We need to erase the false stories we’re telling ourselves. We need to get rid of the judgement.
When you’re present, others become more present too. And as people engage with their colleagues, they find meaning in their work and the workplace becomes a better place to be.
To live life fully, we need to connect with others — even with people we find difficult. And to connect, we have to be curious and present. With these two ordinary things, our interactions become extraordinary. Curiosity and presence may be common sense, but they are not common. In fact, using them gives you an edge.
My hope is that you find value in the ordinary, teach through your presence, have more transformations than transactions, and that you make this one precious life — this one precious moment — extraordinary.