In one brief snap shot of my morning, I had a fairly obtuse conversation about connecting with other human beings.
There was mention of being genuine, being real, being available, approachable and engaging others no matter where we are. “All great leaders walked alongside the ones they were leading,” they said.
It is natural for me to engage others while standing in line at the grocery, walking around the campus at work or walking my dog, but what was suggested was that this could be taught. Could it? Can you teach someone how to be genuine and real? Can you teach someone to be out there, available and engaging?
In spare moments throughout the day, I heard the questions echo in my mind. What really goes into a real connection with another human? For me it starts with the genuine concern and interest in others, so I wasn’t clear exactly how to teach that sort of thing. So I tried to break it down further.
More often than not for me, initial connections with other humans involve eye contact and a smile. Perhaps a nod, a hello, or a comment about something such as the weather will accompany them. These are my in passing connections who I see as I am walking to or from one building or around the neighborhood.
What I notice is that these passing connections often open the door to a deeper level of connection that might involve introductions, a hand shake (still smiles and more eye contact) or directions to somewhere or to someone else.
I am mindful to never ask a question unless I actually have the time to hear the full response, so if I ask, I listen. I am enough of an extrovert to do this and curious enough, by nature, to almost not be able to help myself.
Here is what I know for sure. Communication skills can be taught. Mindfulness can be taught. We can present someone skillfully with information about a person that makes them seem more human and likable because of their story, which can sometimes initiate genuine concern or interest in what happens next in the story.
We can skillfully argue the “we are all human” card, and connected by that very fact, which might lead to an interest or genuine regard. However, what if the story isn’t very great, doesn’t grab interest, or the story is deemed insignificant? Does that mean that we are no longer connected to the human to whom the story belongs? Does the capacity for empathy end when the story stops holding interest or feels threatening?
The connection doesn’t break for me there, as I am still genuinely interested in what happens next. But can you teach that? It seems the genuine interest and regard is the foundation of the connection with other humans—it is the key ingredient that makes the rest feel real to the other. How can we teach someone to really care about another? I feel confident we can, although the particulars are not clear (yet)!
It is Day Three of November’s writing challenge, so perhaps by the end of the month I might find a way! In the meantime, feel free to chime in your thoughts on this stream of consciousness.