We often hear that a crowd is the loneliest place. There are a lot of lonely people out there who have other people in their lives. They just don’t feel connected to them. This is really an easy fix. Anyone can learn to create connection with others. Here are the steps to make it happen.
Take Time to Learn About Emotions
Do you know what you are feeling? Can you tell the difference between one emotion and another? For example, do you feel a difference between frustration and anger? What about fear and anger? Do you express what you feel? Could someone who is looking at you tell the differences in your emotions?
Feelings are expressed through the body. A handy way of identifying nuances between one feeling and another is to pay attention to your body. Is your face flushed, shoulders tight, breathing high and quick? Those are physiological responses that go with certain emotions. These clues can help you to label your feelings. Accurately identifying your feelings can give you a hint about what to do with them. Knowing what you are feeling can also help you share your reality with others.
Most of us spend a lot of time each day with our faces in our phones. Put the phone down. Listen to whomever is speaking with all your attention. Paraphrase what you hear so that you and they know that you’ve heard correctly. Look at the other person. This shows interest in the person and in what they are saying. Check your body language. This can also tell a person “I am fully present” or “I am not listening.” If you want others to be interested in you, you have to be interested in them. If you don’t have the time to give someone your full attention, it may be better to wait until you do to talk.
Take Turns Being the Subject of Conversation
When you are speaking to someone, let them finish talking about what they are talking about. While they are the topic of conversation, offer things that show support, understanding, challenge, or build rapport. For example, you can use encouragers like nodding your head or saying, “Um hm.” You could offer a statement of understanding like, “Wow, that sounds like you were really scared” or “That must have been tough.”
You can share stories of your life at this time if it achieves one of the previously stated goals. If it seems like your story is offered to bring the attention to you, it’s not going to create connection. Wait until it’s your turn. If it’s never your turn, perhaps the person you are talking with is either not that interested in you or doesn’t have the social skills to be a healthy partner.
Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes
This is the golden rule: Treat others as they want to be treated. Think about the implications of what you are doing or asking. If your friend has said she doesn’t like it when you are late, either be on time or don’t make time commitments that you can’t keep. If you want another piece of cake, you might consider whether everyone else has had a piece before taking it. Everyone wants to feel valued and important. When you treat others the way they want to be treated, they are going to feel more kindly towards you.
Another aspect of this is just to imagine what it’s like to be someone else. You may feel the desire to yell at a driver who is blocking the road, but imagine what it is like to be the driver! His car is broken down, blocking the road, and holding everyone up! It can’t feel good to be that person right now. If you think about how others are feeling or what they are going through before you speak or react, your behavior tends to be gentler. A habit of kindness can build an atmosphere of approachability.
One more hint about empathy. When you are dealing with someone who is angry, mean, or you really can’t understand, assume the best. Hurt people hurt people. Your compassion could be the thing that makes your life and someone else’s a whole lot better. It always pays to give someone the benefit of the doubt.
Ask for Stories and Share Your Own
Relationships are built by piece by piece. One big part of getting to know someone is to exchange stories. This can help you to see things you have in common, build trust, and create understanding. When you see something that is different, don’t judge. Look for common ground. Get curious. Look for a way to understand or see the world through the other person’s eyes.
When you are sharing, pace yourself. Honesty is good. Vulnerability is good, but too much too fast is overwhelming. Let things unfold at a natural, leisurely pace. This gives you time to see red flags. Not everything that feels good in the beginning turns out to be good. If you take your time building relationships, you won’t expose yourself to those who don’t deserve your trust.
Pay Attention to Nonverbal Cues
Listen to tone of voice. Is there are hard edge? Maybe it’s not a good time to talk. Pay attention to how fast a person is speaking. Often when someone is talking faster than normal, it’s because of stress or being pressed for time. Respond accordingly.
Look at facial expressions. Pay attention to where you are in space. How close are you? How are your bodies positioned? Facing towards each other or away? Are you leaning in? Does anyone have their arms crossed? All these things can tell you whether you are in rapport or not. If you are not in rapport, you can either make another attempt to gain rapport or drop that line of conversation. Trying to have a conversation with someone who is not willing is generally not a good idea.
Create Time for Relationship Creation and Maintenance
Relationships are investments. They take time and care. If you call someone once in a blue moon, how connected do you think they are going to feel with you? What about if you only come by when you want something? They are probably going to feel used. If you see your friends and family as people who are meant to serve your needs, you’re not going to have a very warm, satisfying relationship. If you do the things I’ve mentioned above with sincerity, a mutually satisfying relationship can develop.
Healthy relationships don’t fall into some people’s laps because they are lucky. They are there because they are cultivated. Think of them as living things. If you water and fertilize, they grow. If you neglect them, they die.
Everyone can do this. If you need to learn many things, start with one at a time. If you need to brush up on one or two, you’re probably way ahead of the game. Always start with you. You are the only thing you can control. But if it’s not you, first ask for what you need. If the other person is not willing to make changes, then you have to decide if you can accept him as he is or not. We can’t make connections with everyone, but we can enhance our ability to create connection. When we do that, loneliness diminishes significantly.