It’s often hard to chart the path forward into the unknown. We might not like the past but it’s familiar. We know how to do it.
When we’re faced with an unknown street sign crossroads, we pause not knowing what to do.
I think of that almost every time I take a subway in a city I don’t live in. Even if I know I am getting out at the right stop, once I get out from underground I look around, trying to get my bearings. Which way do I go?
It’s like we get caught in an internal subway, moving through the shadowy underground, trying to make sense of the confusing morass inside. Coming out into the sunshine blinds us and confuses instead of shining on the path forward.
I’ve led hundreds of groups and workshops throughout the years. One thing is invariably consistent: people want to do “it” right. We’re looking for a roadmap, to help us come up from the subway, orienting, trying to get a sense of which way to go.
Watching people make the space safe(r) for each other I’ve realized there are some core ingredients that make for a positive connection and help us chart our path forward.
Being willing to learn from other people and not have all the answers.
This quality also includes the capacity to offer forth your own experience even if you’re not sure it’s “right” or if others will find it valuable.
John Gottman, PhD, the author of many books, has studied couples and their interactions. He’s found that an important quality in being connected is being able to be influenced by another.
That happens when we listen to hear the perspective of another person even if it doesn’t completely mirror our own.
2. Appreciation for others/Assuming the best
Seeing the best in others and letting others know how the other is contributing to you.
At the same time, we need to be realistic about other people’s capacity. People are inherently good – but is the person you’re dealing with able to live in alignment with their own values? Are your values aligned with them?
Sometimes there’s too wide a chasm between the potential and the reality. When you’re seeing the best and assuming the best, it doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to another’s inability to become who they want to be – or who we hope they would be.
3. Compassion and Kindness
We often underestimate how much goodness, kindness, and compassion we need. It really is a critical ingredient.
Other words for this might be gentleness, or self-care. How do you describe this quality that you notice makes for positive connections?
4. Respect and dignity
Whoever you are dealing with, like you, has a history of behaving well, and…not so well. Life’s circumstances have shaped them. Our culture and society have molded them.
Sometimes you, or other people, haven’t had the ability or opportunity to live up to their “potential.”
They might be disheartened, angry, scared, disillusioned. Or they might come across entitled, self-important, defensive.
However they are, can you find a way to honor and respect the life they have walked…to bring them here to this moment when your gaze is on them?
5. Willingness to listen, hear ourselves and other people
You know those times when someone’s saying something and you’re already thinking of how to respond, maybe even zoning out whatever they’re saying as you wait (maybe even impatiently) to jump in?
One of the great gifts so many of us never had was the willingness of another person, particularly a caregiver, to truly attune to us, listen to our words and the inner world out of which those words arise.
It’s also one of the important things we can do for ourselves: listen to our inner world. When, and as, we listen deeply a quiet space opens up possibility.
6. Acknowledging the Kernel
There’s always something in someone else’s speaking that we can join with. It might be a small thing. It might not be the main point the person is making. It might be a thread, but that’s what we’re looking for, something that opens our heart to resonate with the other person, which in turn opens the door to connection.
7. Joining on what connects us rather than what separates us
Sometimes people say things that we don’t agree with, maybe even strongly. If we start off with that, they will most likely pull away, looking to protect themselves somehow. If we start off with joining the person on even the small little kernel that we agree with, or connect with, we establish a heart-full path between us.