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Can you hear me now?

“Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?Remember the Verizon commercial advertising better connection.

2016, the year of the most connected society that’s ever lived.  A device in our pocket connects us to our children, our hair stylist, our boss, our suppliers, our neighbors, and our grocers at the push of a button. An order can be placed and received within 24 hours; a tune up on the car can be scheduled; instructions about “how to” can be downloaded.  No group of people in history has ever been so connected.  And yet . . .

We are more isolated than ever.  We sit alone in our cars ordering our pizza for supper.  We sit alone in our homes scrolling through social media.  We sit alone in our office surfing the web looking for answers to our dilemmas. The last two evenings, I’ve listened to two different groups of people who have been intentional about building community.  They’ve purposely begun to live life together.  It was a decision they made and some of them had never experienced that level of connection before.  

Connecting through technology is not the same as connecting in community.  True connection in authentic community looks like vulnerability.  Vulnerability comes at a cost.  So community needs to be trustworthy.  I watched a 30-something, motorcycle riding, inked-up, family man (and btw he’s much, much more than that) point his finger at a friend in his community and say, “We can cry with you about the junk in our lives because you are trustworthy.” Real connection requires vulnerability but vulnerability can only exist when the community is trustworthy.  

Engagement becomes authentic when the community values each other.  When everyone’s voice is important and everyone has something to offer, then engagement will be a natural by-product.  Most of us protect ourselves by acting like we don’t need anything or anyone.  Seldom do we say, “I need . . .”  More often, we can be heard saying, “I’ve got this.” Rich community values everyone, not just the ones who dress well or have more education or do a better job of communicating.  Everyone’s voice is a necessary part of the whole in community.

Humans are designed, just like Legos, for connection.  That’s why isolation is used as a punishment.  It’s hard on us.  It’s not healthy for any of us.  One Lego standing alone is not living up to it’s full potential.  If connected to the right pieces it could become a firehouse headquarters or something equally as elaborate.

If you’ve been without community for a while, I want to suggest that it is already impacting your health, both physical and emotional.  Consider getting outside of your comfort zone and create connection with others who value you, who are trustworthy and who want to be real with you.  


What's the Best Question?

The same framed piece of art hung on my grandparent’s living room wall my entire life —  horses frightened by a dark storm.  Each horse seems to be bunched up against the next, facing opposite directions.  It’s hard to decipher how many horses are in the pack and which tail belongs to which head?  Equally unclear is whether the storm is coming or going.  It was just a picture to me until the day my uncles were standing in front of it asking questions:  How many horses are there?  Which way is the storm moving?  Not many Christmases past without someone standing in front of those horses asking good questions.  As a child, those questions made me think and caused me to get beyond the surface.  

Among the best leaders are people who ask authentic, genuine, creative questions.  Questions push you beyond the surface and into real engagement.  Conversations are places to engage and connect.  Directives are neither engaging nor connecting.  Questions like, “Why didn’t you . . . ?” and “Who did this?”  are accusations — simply ways to assign blame.  Along the same lines, forming a question that you already have the answer to is pure manipulation.  Directives and manipulation crush collaboration and creativity.  What would it take for you to start asking your family, your friends, your co-workers authentic, engaging questions?

To engage and connect with people, we need to draw them into collaboration.  Asking good questions is one of the best ways to accomplish that.  Actively listen, reflect what you hear and be aware of what isn’t being said, in order to formulate questions that connect and engage.   A great question I heard recently is: What would have to be true for us to reach the desired outcome?  Take note that no one said, “Who made this mess?” or “Why did this happen?”  Simply, what would have to be true for us to reach the desired outcome?  

Strangely enough, facts shut down the conversation.   A decade ago I was a part of a weekly meeting where one attender was considered the “sage.”  She was full of wisdom and much valuable experience. Whatever she said was the truth.  End of story.  Consequently, when she spoke the conversation was over.  No one felt like they had any right to share their thoughts because the facts had been laid out.  Rather than line out the facts, ask:  What is it that we don’t know?  What is it that we haven’t thought of?  What is your perspective on this?

As you begin to look for ways to ask questions, the pay offs will be enormous.  Not only will you experience genuine engagement and creative solutions to real challenges, but also joint ownership and reduced stress.  Try it with your teenagers, your employees, your bosses, your neighbors and see what results.  Be brave and ask them: What would have to be true for us to reach the desired outcome? What is it that we don't know?


Filling our Need for Connection

Legos are the best!  When my boys were young, we had legos everywhere.  My favorite thing to do was build houses, airplanes, tractors, people, castles, dinosaurs, star wars fighters. It’s so fascinating to connect little tiny unadorned shapes into something significant.  I experienced a big loss the day we stopped playing with legos.  Humans have a built-in need for connection.  We’re like nondescript rectangles that come together in fascinating and impressive ways when we make connections.  

Disengagement is the Problem

Brene Brown, a researcher from the University of Houston, says that disengagement is the chief issue underlying the majority of problems in families, teams, and organizations. We disengage to protect ourselves and we also disengage because we are disappointed in others.  This desire we have to protect ourselves from others' judgement typically pushes us to pretend we are near perfect.  Authenticity sounds dangerous, so we cover up who we really are.  Even though most of us would love to wave a white flag and cry, “I need help” or “This isn’t working;” instead, we smile and say, “I’ve got this.”  

Two fairly unpleasant examples of this disengagement due to disappointment are politics and religion.  Politicians are making laws that they are not obligated to follow. They speak of values that are seldom on display in their behavior.  Likewise, when religious leaders prey on our fear and need for certainty by creating a system that requires us to conform or face repercussion, the entire concept of faith is undermined.  Faith minus connection equates to extremism.  “Connection and engagement is not built on compliance, it’s the product of love, belonging, and vulnerability,” Brene Brown in Daring Greatly.  

We are not purposely creating cultures of disengagement.  However, we might not be intentionally building connection either.  How do we shape a culture of connection? Brene Brown says, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.”  

Two Giants Steps toward Connecting

Living in genuine community, a place where there is real connection, has been my privilege for a couple of decades.  In the beginning, I was skeptical.  I didn't trust anyone.  I doubted the wisdom of being as authentic as the people around me.  Then I began to take risk, show a piece of myself, become transparent and vulnerable.  As I began to live like that, I gained a sense of belonging that is unexplained, a new kind of peace with who I am and a desire to be real with everyone.  This kind of connection and community is contagious. 

What if people came together with their masks off and shared their struggles?  What if we could create a culture where we show up and aren’t afraid to be seen — just us, the real deal, not the fake, pretending, perfect, show-to-the-world us.  If you don’t have that kind of community, maybe it’s time for you to create it.  Start by choosing to show up and be real, be honest, let your true self be seen.  Then create connections with others by seeing, hearing, and valuing them, just as they are.  The problem most of us face is that we want others to be vulnerable with us but vulnerability is the last thing we plan on showing them.  Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, no wonder it makes us uncomfortable.  Humans are designed for connection.  That means cultivating connection is a necessary part of our very health.  

What can you do to start creating this kind of connection in your family and beyond?