In a recent coaching session a client shared a secret:  “I realized that the reason I haven’t been very productive since my move is that I don’t have anyone I can really talk to,” she said.  “I have work friends and attend networking events, but I don’t feel a deep connection to anyone.”

All the Lonely People

Loneliness is officially a public health crisis.  According to a 2018 survey, 22% of adults in the US and 23% in the UK say they always or often feel lonely, lack companionship, feel left out or isolated.  The number of single-occupant households is growing in Denmark, Germany and Canada.  Britain was the first nation in history to appoint a minister for loneliness.

As technology continues to make it easier to do things without interacting with each other, why should we make the effort?  Humans have survived because our brains are wired for connection.  There are serious physical and emotional consequences to spending too much time in isolation.

Less Judgement, More Listening

What should we do?  As Amy Banks points out in Four Ways to Click: Rewire Your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationship, “when you’re judging, you’re not listening… if you’re not judging, you can listen more and feel calmer,” which makes interacting with others much easier.  The author of Cracking the Code of Sustained Collaboration in Harvard Business Review recommends teaching people to listen so that judgment can give way to curiosity and people can value others’ perspectives as much as their own.  Brené Brown challenges us to “listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.”

Listening is the secret to the deep connection that creates nourishing relationships.  How can you claim this for yourself or offer it to someone else today?

A very results-oriented CEO, frustrated with what she perceived as a direct report’s lack of commitment, felt she had to choose between empathy and effectiveness.  This CEO has been working hard to embrace the concepts in Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead™ , especially the idea that people are doing the best they can.

What Does That Really Mean?

We went back to the source for clarification: “Assuming positive intent does not mean that we stop helping people set goals or that we stop expecting people to grow and change.  It’s a commitment to stop respecting and evaluating people based solely on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they’re actually doing.”

Set Boundaries for Ourselves First

If a team member isn’t meeting expectations, it’s the leader’s job to have the tough conversation and hold that person accountable.  It is possible to do that with empathy but here’s the surprise – we have to set appropriate boundaries for ourselves first.  When the CEO acknowledged that her direct report’s best wasn’t good enough, she made the decision to let him go.  Defining that clear boundary for herself meant she didn’t have to choose between empathy and effectiveness.

What boundary do you need to strengthen to be both empathetic and effective?

Do you think of your phone as a connector or a disconnector?  The answer may be both, although research warns that having our phones where we can see them, even if they are turned off, means our brains don’t work as well.

What Did I Miss?

Interestingly, the process of not thinking about something depletes our limited cognitive resources.  If all our neurons aren’t firing we might miss important non-verbal cues that help us connect with people.

That concept might not have registered if you’re reading this on your phone — trying to ignore your phone actually makes it harder for you to connect.  Experiments on this phenomenon proved that our brains work best when our phones aren’t even in the room with us because we are so addicted to the adrenalin jolts we get every time we pick them up.

Higher EQ & IQ

Although your palms might be sweaty just thinking about disconnecting from your phone for a while, I invite you to take a deep breath and envision the benefits of better connections.  Bottom line:  leaving your phone out of sight could improve your EQ and your IQ.

On a recent episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld and Eddie Murphy are driving around in a Porsche Carrera talking about anything and everything.  Seinfeld says, “You know when you see two people talking, one of them is giving the other one advice…saying something like, ‘What I’ve learned…’ or ‘In my experience…’”

What Do You Think?

It’s funny because we know it’s true — we’ve all been on the sending and receiving end of unsolicited advice.  As this Psychology Today article confirms, however, being told what we should do actually makes us feel defensive.  When a coaching client asks for advice, I remind them that my job is to help them find their own answers.  If they insist, I might say, “What I’ve seen others do in a similar situation is…” and then ask, “How do you feel about that?”

Own It

Research tells us that giving advice appeals mostly to the rational parts of the brain.  I also want to engage the feeling part of the brain so my client can make the best possible decision – and own it.

As I’m writing, I realize that I need to practice this approach more in my personal life.  Is there anything you might need to change in how you respond when someone asks for advice? Here is a Harvard Business Review article that might be helpful.  Notice I didn’t say that you should read it!

I recently attended an event with a group of women entrepreneurs who are making a profound impact on individuals, teams, and organizations.  As I listened to their stories, I heard these common themes:

  • Tuning into inspiration – being curious and receptive; putting yourself in places and with people who inspire you
  • Setting your intention – being clear about what you want, who and how you want to be
  • Following through to execution – learning from experience and partnering with others to convert ideas into reality

For the women in this group the results included a new book, new clients and service offerings, and more opportunities for collaboration.  What might be possible for you with more inspiration, clear intention and successful execution?

How would you celebrate a major career milestone?  On the tenth anniversary of launching my practice, I am celebrating your inspiration, encouragement, and the privilege of sharing this amazing journey with you.

What’s Next?

I am also looking forward to what the next ten years will bring — leveraging thousands of hours of assessment, coaching, team development, and facilitation with clients across 18 functions in 70 companies and helping to cultivate courage through the Dare to Lead™  work.

Here’s to You!

My first blog post was about removing barriers to career success and that is my celebratory toast to you:  when you look forward may you see the path to the best version of yourself.