“The Lost Art of Connecting”

It’s
become clear to me, these days, that we’ve lost the art of connecting – both in
business and in our personal lives.  What I mean by “connecting,” is the
ability to listen to other people’s feelings, understand their importance to
them, and create a direct and impactful link, that shows that you care about
them; not simply their problems.  Connecting is the art of getting beyond
task management and problem resolution, to the establishment of a relationship,
quickly and deeply.
I’ve
had two experiences lately that reinforced my belief that connecting has gone
out of style.  The first involved a hotel stay at a Midwestern property
where I was doing some presentations.  I had encountered a couple of
problems during my stay, and had indicated so on the electronic evaluation sent
to me.  My remarks had obviously been passed on to the hotel assistant
manager, since I received an email asking me to call her, to discuss my
troubled experience. 
I
called her; she answered; and there was silence on the line (after I had
introduced myself and told her that I was calling in response to her email
about my survey responses).  She said nothing to connect with me, or segue
off of her inquiry or my remarks.  I had to literally lead the
conversation, or it would have not gone anywhere.  Her responses to the
problems I had encountered (keys that didn’t work, and my room vibrating for
five or ten minutes) were without emotion, and mechanical at best.  I had
to volunteer the explanations I was given, at the time, and she responded with
a tepid apology and a certificate for a free night.  She had no particular
response to the hotel’s dryer shaking rooms all the way up to the third floor,
or to the supposed dynamiting at a local quarry, about a half mile from the
hotel (the engineer’s  explanation).  We could just as easily been
talking about the absence of a newspaper at my room door in the morning.
It
was clear that the only goal she had was to end the conversation, “solve the
problem,” and get rid of me.  She could have empathized with how weird it
must have felt to have the whole room vibrating (the TV almost hopped off of
its stand); or how frustrating it must have been to check into the hotel at
midnight, schlep all my stuff up to my room, and be standing in the hallway not
being able to get in.  She did neither.  She had no interest in my
feelings, or in salvaging a relationship that was bruised and battered.
The
second interaction involved a staff person at the fitness center I use.  I
went to the office of the center to renew my membership and to cancel
Arleah’s.  I sat down at one of the desks and got a shallow, barely
audible “hello” and then, nothing.  I waited a few seconds and then, when
it was apparent that the staff person wasn’t going to say anything, I told her
that I was there to renew one membership and cancel the other one.  She
said nothing in response to my statement, and pulled out a pad of paper and
started writing.  I asked her if she was going to ask me any questions,
like which membership I was renewing, and which one I was canceling.  She
didn’t like my question, got quite defensive, and the rest of our interaction
was infused with a cool, awkward politeness.  She never thanked me for
renewing my membership, and she handled the whole interaction with the
impersonalness of buying gum at a convenient store.
I
had the polar opposite experience at another hotel where I had a meeting
scheduled with the general manager (part of a consulting project with a new
client).  While I was waiting, at the front desk, for the GM to come over,
a young lady behind the counter, asked me what I had around my neck.  (I
wear a device that controls the volume and programs for my hearing aids, and
links them to my cell phone.  It’s hard not to notice it, although very
few people ask me about it.)  Her question lead to a discussion and
interaction that was full of information, spontaneity, and shared feelings. 
In literally minutes, she had engaged me in a dialogue that felt genuine,
caring, and reciprocal.
What’s
the difference?  Curiosity and risk.  No connectedness occurs without
either one.  The problem is that we rarely recruit for curiosity, or
reward for risk.  Remember, that the greatest risks we take are not
financial or physical.  They involve being honest, direct, and unplanned
in relating to others. 
I
was at a political fundraiser a few days ago and was introduced to a couple
that had just arrived.  The man was almost immediately pulled away by the
candidate.  I had noticed that neither the man nor the woman was wearing a
wedding ring, so I asked her if they were a “couple.”  She could have told
me, right there and then, to buzz off and mind my own business.  Instead,
my question lead to a rather involved conversation about how difficult it was
for middle-aged folks to have a committed relationship, without being married,
given the tax implications, the social mores, family pressures, etc.  The
man joined us shortly, and we all had a fascinating conversation about aging,
intimacy, and the changing culture we live in.
As
we parted, both of them said that this had been one of the most interesting
conversations they had had in years, and the gentleman asked if I had a
business card.
When
you’re developing yourself or others, the primary question to always be asking,
is – “Am I willing to take the risk of truly engaging with others, and what
would happen to me if I offend someone?”
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