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When was the last time you put yourself in one camp versus another? 

When was the last time you felt you had to choose a side? 

What was the last time you felt you had to defend your choices? your allegiances? your allies? your tribe? your decisions? your choices?

Vaccines? Brexit? Ring any bells?

To say the world is more divided than it’s ever been, is an understatement. 

It feels to me like we’re being forced into a world which is black and white. You’re either for or against. On the left or the right. In or out. Supportive or destructive. And social media has turned everyone into persecutor, judge, and jury! 

There’s no space for grey anymore. 

We’ve been conditioned to focus on how we’re different, not how we’re the same

Our brains work much like google. We put a thought into the search engine… and the engine looks for the evidence and presents it as a prioritised list. And in making this comparison between something, some-place or some-one, being good or bad, better or worse, we separate ourselves from the potential to connect on a more meaningful level. 

If you only want surface level life, living and relationships, probably best not to read on at this stage. But if you’re curious about connection and meaningful relationships, then read on.

The world is an increasingly lonely place and some people (hello patriarchy again) would love us all to be divided and stay divided. They don’t even care what we’re divided over. They just want us distracted and diminished into simple black and white thinking so they can carry on manipulating us like sheep. I must say at this point, I’m not a conspiracy theorist although I do think it’s important to keep an open mind to everything. I follow a belief that we’re all capable of being adults, capable of making responsible decisions given the right information and the wisdom to make our own discernment. Here’s the problem though, we live in a complex world where things (especially big things) are not black and white. They’re all sorts of shades of grey and the rainbow sprinkled on top. 

So that’s clear then. Lean in, move toward, get curious and connect … but how do you do that in a real human way?

I’m flummoxed by how many people I meet in conversation that never really seem fully present in the conversation. Their energy is either so fast, that despite being fully planted physically in front of me, their spirit seems to have already got in the car and be at their next meeting. Or the opposite of that; sat with someone physically but their spirit stayed behind where they last left. Like the lights are off inside. They’re hard to reach. 

We are either living in the past or racing towards the future. So much so that we’re never really fully in the present. So how do we cultivate and practice the art of connection with others, in order to bring us more together than we are separate?

1. Practice the art of listening PROPERLY 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the receiving end of a ‘catch up’ and literally felt like I’ve been fired at by a machine gun of questions. This kind of interaction always leaves so little space for me to respond and leaves me often feeling empty. It feels like the other person needs to tick off their questions, so that in their mind the job of catching up is done. They can tick it off and move on to the next thing. And yet they’ve left not really knowing anything about where the other person is and what’s going on beyond the surface. Hilarious really. If someone else asked them how was Jen? They’d say, yeah great, she didn’t really have much to say …  

This is what we call listening at level one in the coaching world. And there are five levels of listening, from listening to respond (ie finding your moment to chip in) right through to listening to the field (this takes some practise but is magical once you get it).

Beyond what the person in front of you is saying, expressing, and not saying, there is the field between you. The energetic connection. The air where radio waves might be transmitted between you both. There’s a joyous and juicy space that gets created when we’re willing to connect with another where the listener gets to feel into that space. And it can tell us things that help deepen our connection to another. How do I feel as I pay attention to this person?

It’s quite an art to get good at listening. And I mean like really listening. Not drifting off, practicing paying attention. Real attention to another. And when the listening runs out and the space demands something more, we move on to our next skill

2. Get really good at asking brilliant questions

If you want to get curious and connected to others, we must get good at asking questions. The more open your questions, the more free the other person is to share themselves fully with you. Asking a closed question (one that has a yes or no answer, or a simple single word choice, you’ll get nothing back). People often ask more closed questions when they’re not interested in what other people think (in my experience). 

I really like experimenting with what if type questions too. What if you won the lottery, what would you do? What if you lost your job tomorrow and could have any job at all? What if you could never eat your favourite food again? What if you could write your own obituary? What if you could start again? What keeps you awake at night?

These questions are all hypothetical la la land questions in one respect, but people’s answers will fascinate and entertain you in equal measures, if you’re open to it. You’ll get to know them on a whole other level and they’ll get to feel that lovely warm feeling you get when someone shows a sincere interest in you. 

3. Withold judgement 

Perhaps the most difficult when we’re faced with people different to us. We’d often much rather expend all our energy fighting and convincing them that we’re right, and they’re wrong and they must therefore change their point of view to meet ours. 

To get this stage of connection we have to be willing to suspend our own beliefs for a while. Just long enough to stand in someone else’s shoes. To kill a mockingbird is my favourite book of childhood. It was the first book that changed my life. There’s one stand out point where Atticus Finch (A big shot Lawyer Dad, fighting for fairness for those that don’t know the story), turns to his daughter Scout, and says, ‘to really understand another man, you have to be willing to walk a few miles in his shoes’. It says everything to me, about how we get curious and more connected and less separate and divisive by suspending our judgements. 

We can’t understand how people different to us think, if we look at it through our own eyes. We have to get out of the way of our own beliefs, unconscious bias and assumptions and see it through their eyes. When we do this for each other, this builds compassion, empathy and understanding. And the beauty is, we still don’t have to agree at the end or change our mind, but we’ll better understand the nuances of how we’re different and cultivate healthier community and understanding in the meantime. 

So there you have it, three simple ways to cultivate greater connection with others, even those who are widely different to you. 

I count myself lucky, I’ve always been fascinated by people. There’s nothing more fascinating and complex than humans and I know how much more content, happy and fulfilled I feel when I’ve had good quality connection with others.