For most of us, the last 12 months have been rife with isolation and filled with loneliness. We’ve leaned into technology to stay in touch, but those platforms don’t replace the joy and thrill of dinners with friends, celebrations with extended families or even the occasional water cooler chats with colleagues. Now, with vaccinations underway and the COVID rates dipping, it’s time to start to think what to do as we emerge from our socially distanced abodes.
Some good news — whether you’re a born connector or someone who struggles to widen your circle, the pandemic has, in a sense, leveled the playing field — forcing all of us to start from scratch when rebuilding the real life experiences, we’ve been lacking. Here are six quick ways to get started:
- Be Intentional. Spend some time now reflecting and thinking about what it is you want to accomplish when you emerge. Do some old-fashioned naval-gazing and determine what and who matters to you. What values do you want to focus on? What are the special assets you have to offer those you know and those you will meet? Being clear about your goals will help you chart your course for connecting.
- Forget FOMO and Create JOMO (the joy of meeting others). As we return to a sense of normalcy, consider becoming a convener (online and/or in real-life). Start small if the idea intimidates you. Invite five friends or colleagues to a small gathering and ask each to invite one additional person. This group approach will put you in contact with friends of friends and increases the chance you’ll cross paths with others who share a mutual interest.
- Ask Questions. To truly build connection, learn the art of the ask. Have five or six questions ready that will illicit meaningful responses. For example, instead of standard and stale conversation starters like inquiries about the weather, consider instead, “What are you looking forward to the most once the pandemic is over?” or “What part of social isolation is most challenging to you right now?” These questions invite a more thoughtful response and are far more likely to result in a meaningful conversation.
- Learn How to Listen. Most of us fail miserably at listening with several studies suggesting that 75% of the time most of us are distracted, preoccupied and forgetful. But to be a great connector (again both online and in the real world), listening is the secret weapon. It’s critical to building meaningful and long-lasting ties to others. The next time you’re in that conversation asking good questions, be certain to focus on and retain the answers. Knowing what’s on someone’s mind, what they prefer, what they are excited about are the keys to offering an appropriate and supportive response.
- Follow Up. If you truly listen and go so far as take notes (a great way to actually remember), you have all the tools you need to artfully follow up. If your colleague mentioned that they were planning a trip to a city you or someone else in your circle has visited, send them an email with the names of several museums or restaurants you know and loved. If a friend is looking for a nonprofit to support and you are familiar with one looking for their expertise, make that introduction. It may feel uncomfortable at first but turn that idle thought into a concrete follow up action.
- Rinse and Repeat. Like most things in life, practice makes perfect in connecting and you have a lifetime to finesse your craft. After your colleague returns from their trip, check in and ask how it all went and if they visited the spots you recommended. Reach out to see how they’re doing, what’s going on in their lives personally and professionally. This can be a phone call, a text, a direct message on Twitter of Instagram or even a hand-written note.
Knowing how to skillfully and artfully build a community is a skill that will serve not just in the wake of a pandemic and prolonged self-isolation, but also whenever you’re faced with a new environment, be it a move to a new city or a switch to a different industry. Approach it with confidence, and your efforts will be richly rewarded time and again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SUSAN MCPHERSON is a serial connector, seasoned communicator and founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, a communications consultancy focused on the intersection of brands and social impact. She is the author of The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Relationships (March 23, 2020; McGraw-Hill). Susan has 25+ years of experience in marketing, public relations, and sustainability communications, speaking regularly at industry conferences, and contributing to the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Forbes. She has appeared on NPR, CNN, USA Today, The New Yorker, New York Magazine and the Los Angeles Times. Susan is a Vital Voices global corporate ambassador and has received numerous accolades for her voice on social media platforms from Fortune Magazine, Fast Company and Elle Magazine. She resides in Brooklyn.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The onslaught of technology and social media provides for a tightly woven “community” online, but isolation and loneliness remain high for people of all ages, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. In her practical and much needed book, The Lost Art of Connecting, seasoned communicator and serial connector Susan McPherson explains how to go back to basics and forge lasting, effective, and meaningful connections—the human way. Her three-step method (Gather, Ask, Do) encourages people to be more intentional and authentic both when looking for new connections and retaining old ones—on Zoom or in real life.