After over a year of profound social changes that have significantly reduced the opportunity for meaningful interaction, it’s not difficult to see why some of us have forgotten the art of connecting with other people.
Here, Psychologist Luisa Williams gives us top tips to increase connection and explains the multifaceted benefits of sharing better bonds with other people.
We are all social creatures that crave interaction. But what we truly need is connection – a genuine bond with someone that goes beyond spending time with them and enjoying their company.
When we connect with someone, we feel a sense of belonging that improves our well-being. Positive relationships with people don’t only make us less lonely but also increase life longevity and build our resilience. Connection helps us feel supported and more resistant to life adversities.
But, if it has so many benefits, why do we find connection with others so difficult?
An inability to connect might stem from low self-esteem. When we think lowly of ourselves, we’re afraid of being vulnerable enough to share personal struggles with others. A fear of vulnerability might be linked to trust issues. If you were hurt in the past, it’s natural you don’t believe in other people’s intentions.
In some people’s cases, it’s a matter of a different worldview. If you experience mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety, trauma history or personality disorders, you might feel isolated and struggle to relate to other people and their perspectives.
But no matter what’s holding you back, you can learn how to better connect with others, and begin to enjoy the benefits of connectivity. Check out the tips below:
Connect with a smile
Smiling is one of the tricks that make others see you in a positive light. It conveys positive emotions and boosts your mood. When you smile at someone, they’re more likely to respond with a smile as well, which strengthens the bond and positive associations. Essentially, smile is a social tool. It lets others know you want to engage with them and that you’re someone they can trust.
Practise social skills
We all need social interaction, whether we’re lonely or not. However, problems arise when we turn to other people to receive validation or distract ourselves from negative emotions. Sometimes, we end up seeing our relationships as a transaction. In the end, we fail to commit and make an effort. If you want to build a true connection with others, you have to start seeing them as someone you can grow with.
The first step is to become a great listener. Good listening skills let others know you care about what they have to say and that you’re interested in them as a person. Make sure you’re actively listening – make eye contact, respond with nonverbal cues and wait for a pause to ask questions about what is being said.
If you struggle with concentration, visualise what the other person is saying. Make a mental note of what they like and dislike. It will help you get to know their boundaries and further strengthen the bond. If you know what’s important to someone, you’re less likely to jeopardize your relationship. Don’t forget to engage in small talk. It will allow you to showcase your personality and encourage building on the relationship.
Get to know them
Be present and forget about distractions. When you want to get to know someone, you have to make an effort and focus all your attention on them. Make sure you don’t look at your phone or worry about all the things you have to do when you get home.
Develop interests. One of the most important steps is sharing mutual interests. Your likes and dislikes might be already obvious to you but if your life revolves around school or work, you might struggle to think of things you’re passionate about. Of course, most people enjoy watching TV or playing games but the key to building a relationship with someone is finding something you can both grow doing. You can start by trying out new hobbies. Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and consider signing up for a new class.
Lastly, learn to recognise when they feel uncomfortable or upset. Pay attention to their body language and changes in demeanour. Notice if they’re exceptionally quiet or struggle to keep eye contact.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
Vulnerability. It’s defined as ‘uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure’. Most of us take risks frequently: we order food from a new restaurant, we cross the road when the light is red, and arrive late for work. But when it comes to people, we tend to play it safe. We hide our feelings and distance ourselves.
Vulnerability is the price of connection. Connection is about stepping out of your comfort zone and being open with another person as much as they’re open with us. If someone shares their personal struggles with you, don’t be afraid to respond with the same.
However, make sure you connect with yourself first. Try to sit with your thoughts and feelings. Write them down and try to link emotions to what’s going on in your life. This will help you spot a pattern and better meet your needs. For example, if your job is stressing you out and you don’t have time to rest because you work overtime, you might think of adjustments to complete your tasks faster.
Be authentic and let people get to know the real you. If you find it difficult to open up and feel comfortable around someone you don’t know well, remind yourself that everyone has flaws. Write down your strengths and make sure you read them regularly. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. A genuine friendship is based on trust and helping each other get through difficult times.
If you’d like to hear more from Luisa on a range of other topics, visit My Family Psychologist.