One of my interests is singing in a community choir that’s occasionally booked to perform in nursing homes. Last Saturday we had the opportunity to entertain residents in a dementia unit.
Near the end of our performance we often move into the audience and lead a sing-along of old time classics. We weren’t sure what would happen this time, but we gave it a go.
It was amazing to see people who, moments before, were experiencing confusion about their surroundings, now full of animation and able to remember all the words to songs from their teenage years as they joined in with us.
The man I sat beside was a picture of frailty - immobile in a wheel chair, eyes staring at nothing in front of him. As everyone sang around him he remained fixed like a statue, giving me no eye contact or sign of awareness.
I wasn’t sure what else to do but hold the song words in front of him and keep singing.
Then I saw it; the fingers on his right hand tapping on the arm of his wheelchair. His lips moved and – for a second – his eyes twinkled. He murmured something but I couldn’t catch it.
When the singing finished, I thanked him for joining me. He stared ahead with no recognition.
But – for a flicker of time – there had been a connection. It was like a channel of communication opened up between us, and was gone before I fully recognised it.
The power of connecting with those around you is a key element in succeeding in business, at work and in life. If we can’t build trusting and productive relationships, our journey will be more like a struggle.
Do you find some people are harder to connect with than others? The good news is, anyone can learn to increase their ability to form strong and enduring connections. Like many things in life, it’s starts with being a confident communicator.
In my online programs I talk about three areas to focus on if you want to form better connections.
1. Show you’re interested
Hairdressers and other types of service providers know this well. They make it their business to remember what you talked about last time, so they can raise it on your next visit to build an even stronger connection. “How was your trip to New Zealand?”, “Did Rachel end up getting into that course?”, “Are you feeling better after your accident?”
Communication expert Leil Lowndes calls it Make people look forward to seeing you again. Her easy tip? After having a conversation with someone, make a note of what you chatted about that they enjoyed. Then refer to it next time you see them.
2. Lock those peepers
Making great eye contact isn’t new advice. It’s worth a reminder because not everyone does it well!
Looking directly into someone’s eyes (as opposed to a death stare, fixing them with a creepy gaze) opens up a communication connection at both a conscious and unconscious level. It also increases trust and shows you’re present in the situation.
How are you at making eye contact? Do a check-in next time you’re in a conversation. If this needs work, make a conscious effort to lock eyes even more and notice the difference it makes.
3. Know what your body’s doing
There are plenty of myths about body language. If someone folds their arms, they’re not necessarily aloof or uninterested. Maybe they’re cold, or it might be a comfortable way for them to sit!
However, many people have bought into these stories without knowing the broader context. So, pay attention to your own body language. Avoid folding your arms in case the other person gets the wrong message. If you can, turn your body slightly side-on rather than facing them head-on - this is specifically for building trust and connection - but keep your feet pointed towards them (this is a no-no in some countries so do your homework if travelling).
People who can make deep connections get better opportunities and have richer relationships. Sounds like something worth practising!