Making connections with others is a messy process. We all struggle with it.
And yet, at the same time, we all want deep, healthy connections that inspire us to grow and be our best selves.
If there was one thing that I struggled with the most as a teenager, it was this. Social anxiety, worrying about what others thought, or performing in front of a group was the crux of my suffering as a teen.
Luckily, it’s been many years since those days, and I’d like to think I have learned one or two things since then about connection (but I’m sure I can still be just as awkward at times, lol).
Mindfulness practice as shown me that meaningful connection, whether that is with family, friends, romantic partners, or the person you just met, is about connecting beneath the surface.
Don’t get me wrong, small talk has its place, but the connections we remember, we want, and that nourish us are, in my opinion, about 4 main things.
1. Being in the present moment with yourself and the other
Let’s start with an obvious one, but in this day and age of cell phones, not all that common anymore.
Far too often I see people out at dinner with each other, sitting across from each other and starting into (not each other’s eyes) but their phones.
When two people are very present with one another, connection naturally arises.
It doesn’t matter if they have known each other for a long time, or just met. Being present with the other person, with all your awareness in this moment, is very powerful.
Thich Nhat Hanh said: “If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence.”
You can imagine the presence that a new mother has starting into the eyes of her newborn child. No one else in the world exists except them and their connection.
Now that’s presence.
What would it be like to bring that presence into all your relationships?
2. What am I feeling and what are they feeling on an emotional level?
It’s easy to argue about dirty dishes and say that the reason for the argument exists outside of yourself.
But if you look beneath the surface, what we are really responding to is not the dishes, but our emotional reaction to the dishes.
When we expand our awareness into our emotional level, and are curious about the emotions of others, we see the truth of what is really going on in a relationship.
Unfortunately, few of us are taught to attune to our emotions or the emotions of others. It is not a subject taught in school (although it should).
If we don’t recognize, acknowledge, and validate our emotions and that of others, it is missing a big part of who we are as humans.
Connection is all about how we FEEL about the other person.
I believe that one of our greatest needs as humans is to be seen emotionally, and to see others in the same way.
It is truly a gift when we communicate at this level.
So ask the person across from you: “how are you feeling?” and be willing to honestly answer the same 🙂
3. What is my unmet need and what is their unmet need?
Once we become aware of ourselves and others on an emotional level we can unlock the secret to emotions: they are pointing us to our needs.
Underneath every negative emotion lies an unmet need.
Dig deeper – look into each emotion and ask – what am I needing right now? What are you needing right now?
Could it be – connection, space to be myself, rest, food, empathy, fun, playfulness, a hug?
When we feel happy, joyful, content, satisfied, etc. it is because we have our needs met. Hurray!
With every conflict comes unmet needs. If everyone has their needs met, there is no conflict.
Let’s connect here – both within ourselves and be curious about the other.
There’s nothing more connecting that meeting each other’s needs or getting them met together.
4. What are my values and what are their values?
If we want to get to know someone, we may ask about their favorite music, food, tv shows, hobbies, or job.
And these are nice things to know and connect on.
But if you really want to get to know someone, try connecting on a level of values.
Values are the guiding directions we want our life to go.
Ask yourself, or someone else something like this:
-Who is your hero in life and what about them do you admire so much?
-At the end of your life, what do you want others to say about you?
-What kind of impact do you want to make in your life?
Woh! Big questions indeed. And imagine the kind of conversation you can have with someone with these questions.
When we connect with and are curious about the other person’s values, we get to know them on a level many others do not.
So try these 4 things out. It might feel weird at first. Try it with someone you already trust and connect with.
Be awkward. It’s OK to ask weird questions. And it’s OK to share about your feelings.
Go Slow. Start with small talk until you feel comfortable with the person. Tell a story about yourself and share about your emotions.
Talk about one of your heroes. Look deeply into yourself and examine your unmet needs.
Connect with yourself. Connect with others.
We are all in it together. Let’s struggle through the awkwardness and difficulty of making a connection together.
And if it doesn’t hit the mark, that’s OK too. We don’t need to connect deeply with everyone.
But if there is someone in your life you would like connect with, now you know some things to try.
Until next time,
Ellis Edmunds, Psy.D.
P.S. I have two upcoming workshops in Oakland:
For anyone struggling with dating in the Bay Area. May 25 in Oakland. Click below:
Everyday Mindfulness for Stress and Anxiety – Free Introductory Class on June 6. Click below: