Whether you are a leader, coach, or friend, when people want to talk with you, they are probably looking for an experience, not a conversation. They want to walk away with feeling something different whether you connect live or remotely. This need for a positive experience heightens in times of intense emotions. Millions of people are feeling isolated and lonely even when there are other people in the house.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow said feeling cared about, accepted and respected is necessary before we can realize our full potential. We don’t grow and evolve on our own. We long to feel we are heard and understood when interacting. We must feel seen by others before we can know ourselves.
The word “engagement” is misunderstood
The need for a deep connection is even more profound in the western world where we are brought up celebrating our individuality instead of having an eastern collectivist mindset.2 We go through life with a yearning we can’t describe. When talking with people in a crowded room, we can feel alone. When we engage in conversation, we want to feel connected even if the moment is brief.
A conversation doesn’t guarantee a meaningful experience. Even before the pandemic, we lacked connected interactions at work. Workplace research on engagement looks at the frequency of contact and the content of the communications. Consistently, employees checked the box indicating they want their managers to be more open and approachable. The results hint at the importance of creating a deeper connection. Having access to leaders isn’t enough.
Outside of work, our personal conversations are often shallow. We talk above and around each other, formulating ideas while waiting for our turn to talk.
Journalist Johan Hari calls out our parodies of connection where the humanity in the person we are with is invisible.1 Often unrecognized, the subtle yet growing sense of betrayal and indignity we feel when this occurs makes future attempts at connecting even harder.
One of our greatest tragedies is how little we see the people we live with and love. When we think we know someone, we quit being curious. We don’t see them as unique beings whose brains are modifying every day. We assume we know enough. Then we get too busy to relax into conversations that go beneath the surface.
Create tangible engagement in your conversations
When people enjoy the time with you, they want to continue the relationship, and they want to learn and grow based on the quality of the connection. The connection becomes an experience. The energy exchange with you is exhilarating. They are inspired to face challenges and produce creative results.
The Latin translation for being alive is “being among men.” We feel joy when we have the freedom to be who we are in the company of others. Empowerment is not something we do to people, it’s a result of the care, respect, and value we impart with our presence and words. The engagement is then intrinsic; people feel their inner power emerging with real engagement.
Having a “tangible engagement” means you let the relationship and conversation unfold without trying to control it. You clarify the intention or goal of the conversation, and then seek to connect and explore the path to this destination together. You don’t lose yourself in the conversation; you honor the dignity of the individual you are with along with valuing yourself for the gift of non-judgmental presence.
Start creating memorable experiences remotely and live with these suggestions:
- Consciously choose to open yourself to another human. The next person you see, look them in the eye. Activate your courage to rise above the fear of exposing your vulnerabilities. Seek to discover their hopes and fears, and feel their inherent goodness.
- Don’t seek a goal for a conversation today other than connection. At least once every day, have one conversation with no goal. Start by asking, “What’s your biggest challenge today?” Then allow them to describe what they are facing. If they request your advice, say, “Tell me more about the challenge you are facing so I can better understand how I can help.” Allow the collaboration to unfold.
- Let your brain be still. When your brain is in motion you quit receiving. They don’t feel your presence. Practice noticing when you engage and disengage. Open your heart with compassion so you stay present while you are still. Your awareness of the nature of your connection will develop over time.
Let’s give each other the one thing we want more than anything else—to be seen. May we walk away from each other changed by our experiences.
- Johan Hari. Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong. TEDGlobalLondon, June 2015. https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong
- David Robson. How East and West Think in Profoundly Different Ways. BBC blog post https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170118-how-east-and-west-think-in-profoundly-different-ways