“Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.”― Harriet Lerner

This week’s post is brought to you by Leah.

I feel sick.

I’m sitting in my car, scrolling through Facebook aimlessly and watching the minutes tick by. Meanwhile, at the back of my head I’m having a quiet conversation with myself: ‘Why do you put yourself through this? They’ll probably stare at you bored out of their minds. I don’t even know what I’m talking about! I can’t wait for this to be over.’

All of a sudden it’s 5 minutes before the meetup where I’m presenting. I finally get out of my car with a deep sigh, because the truth is: I’m terrified that I won’t be able to connect with the people any deeper than surface level.

It feels so exposed, so unpredictable and (gasp!) you have to make eye contact with these other human beings!!

This might be surprising to hear considering it’s something we do a lot in our business – meetups, workshops, speaking gigs, interviews, etc… And if you’ve ever seen me at a meetup or speak to a large crowd, I seem to love it… and I actually do.

It’s just the vulnerability of the pre and post-presentation connecting bit – the unplanned conversations, the potential small talk, the awkward silences, the ‘I can’t remember your name’ bit, the ‘running out of things to say’ part….

After all, being ‘out front’ and in front of real, live human beings… well… there’s no editing, no deleting, and no retouching. You could stumble and fall at any moment for all to see. You could embarrass yourself, be lost for words, drink too much, say something inappropriate…. the list goes on.

Being in front of another human being is raw, vulnerable, and risky. You are in the arena.

But it’s also where all of the magic happens.

You see, the internet has provided us with a facade for ‘showing up’ and for real connection. But all that is, is an illusion of being connected because it’s without the demands of real relationships. There is almost zero social or emotional risk when you like or comment on a Facebook post. It’s surface.

Real relationships take time, they take emotional investment, they are unpredictable, they can be super messy, they can hurt, AND they can be the most fulfilling thing you can ever experience.

They can take you to new heights, they can help you grow faster than you ever thought possible, they can help you step outside of your comfort zone, and they can accelerate you making your impact on the world.

The lost art of connecting

There’s just one tiny (huge!) problem – most of us have completely forgotten how to connect. I mean deeply connect. And it’s not just hurting our relationships, it’s affecting:

  • the level of fulfilment we get to experience on a daily basis
  • our ability to develop a support network for when the sh*t hits the fan
  • our ability to work through hard sh*t in our lives
  • how fast we work through indecision and roadblocks
  • how quickly we can build our businesses and make our impacts on the world
  • our practice of being vulnerable and authentically who we are
  • the level of connectedness you have with yourself
  • your ability to form real attachments to others
  • your ability to be heard, and hear others.

The (easy) fast track to connecting deeply

There’s a real temptation here to load you up with tips and things you can do to start connecting with others again. But really there is one thing that in my experience makes all the difference and speeds up the depth of connectedness you can feel with another person:

Notebooks ready?

Step 1: Listen deeply.

Step 2: Repeat back what you hear.

Step 3: Repeat steps 1 & 2.

Now in order to listen deeply, there’s a long list of ‘don’ts’ that you must honor:

  • Don’t fix it – I resisted the urge to put this one in ALL CAPS – usually people already have all the answers, your attempts to fix it will encourage disconnection – the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve here.
  • Don’t give unsolicited advice – similar to above, just don’t even go there unless asked!
  • Don’t turn the conversation to you at the first opportunity.
  • Don’t try and turn someone’s pain into a delight – by helping someone to ‘see the bright-side’ you are actually telling them that their feelings are not ok.
  • Ask questions ‘on topic’ – ask things like ‘What’s that been like for you? How did that make you feel? What do you mean by ‘xyz’?
  • Don’t dismiss their feelings – it will feel unnatural, but actually encourage them to go deeper if they are comfortable using the above questions.
  • Don’t take on their feelings as your own – make sure you have good boundaries – empathize, but don’t make their feelings yours, it will become counter-productive.
  • Don’t run from them because of the discomfort you feel around their sharing – often we try and fix or give advice or be an optimist simply because someone else’s distress makes us uncomfortable – cut that out! It’s disrespectful.
  • Don’t interrupt or share how this reminds you of a similar story from your life (it hijacks the conversation – there is nothing more irritating!).
  • Basically: Don’t.Do.Anything.

Just.F*cking.Listen.

Finding your Committed Listener

So now that you’ve mastered the art of listening deeply, who do you have in your life who can be that person for YOU? I like to call this person a Committed Listener.

Recently I went through one of the toughest times in my life. I have never experienced any kind of depression before, but even that snuck up on me for a short time. I felt like my entire life was spinning out of control, I felt empty, alone, depleted and incredibly stressed out.

I slowly lost my spark and I felt so isolated. I truly believed I had no-one to turn to. No-one who could just f*king listen without judgement and putting their own needs and wants into the space and simply support me, just hear me. It was like being smothered underneath hundreds of pillows.

At near breaking point, I finally reached out to a close friend. I ‘vomited’ everything out to him. And he just listened, repeated back, and just listened some more. He held the most incredible loving space for me by intentionally doing nothing (no fixing, no advice giving, etc.) and I know that without him I likely would have kept spiralling further into scary depths of despair.

The ONLY thing that got me through, that helped me to find my spark again, slowly but surely, was this kind of deep connection.

Who can you rely on to just f*cking listen?

If the answer is ‘no-one’ – then make it your mission to find a ‘committed listener’. This is a very specific role and you can be as intentional as actually asking that person to take on this role for you when requested. They basically have to agree to do (and not do) the above dot points.

And don’t settle for any old ordinary ‘committed listener’ – find someone you have natural rapport with and who genuinely cares about you.

This can take time, so don’t feel rushed into ‘popping the question’ until you think you’ve found the best person for YOU.

Creating deep connections BEFORE you need them

Creating these kinds of connections by listening deeply and being listened to deeply is actually creating powerful emotional connections between you and others. And the real ‘pay back’, if you like, is what opens up to you in return.

So don’t be shy. Practice connecting deeply with others and then find someone to come on board as your Committed Listener.

I promise you, not only will you feel less alone and more joyful, you can actually start to power through when the sh*t really hits the fan in your life. And if you can power through that stuff, then you truly cannot be broken.

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