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Why the need for human connection?

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on July 29, 2008

I am currently working on my next book, this one for Hyperion Press, and due out next year. It includes a thorough exploration of the subject of human connection and the role that persuasive communication plays in starting connections, building connections and developing connections with each other. I have pulled together a wealth of information about this, and in today’s post, I’m using this opportunity to ‘connect’ with you about it.

What motivates people to connect with each other?

There are many reasons behind our need to make contact with each other. Among the biggest drivers is the instinct for reciprocity that signals to us that if we do for others, it is increasingly likely that they will do for us in return. This helps us find safety in numbers, because as we build up support around us, helping others and invoking some genetically programmed obligation to return the favor, we are building the support systems on which we may come to depend if in dire straits or faced with intractable problems.

Another compelling reason to connect is just plain common sense: In life, it’s not just what you know, but who you know. The more people you know, the more likely it is that you’ll know the people you need to know when you need to know them. Connections with others gives us a place to contribute, to have our lives count for something, to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

And let’s not overlook the deep underbelly of our existence…life is lonely without other people in it.  We are driven to connect with each other to ease the loneliness and increase our sense of place in this life. Isolation is where depression lives, and isolation is a killer. Just consider the fate of people in nursing homes who have lost their mobility, their vision, their hearing, and the interest of family. The more isolated they are, the less quality of life they experience.  When a person experiences the loss of a beloved, it is as if the fabric of life itself is torn away.  They stand alone in a crowd,  bereft of hope at least for a season.  Only through connection does the pain recede, yet reaching out for it in a time of such dark need seems damn near impossible.  Their only chance could be someone reaching in.  And when we listen to our better angels, we do reach out, and reach into each other, to help each other.  We connect, because we recognize that when a person has no one, there is still that need for connection, and we know that the connection to lonliness is in each of us, too.

Any organization that wants to grow and thrive must grow and thrive through the connections individuals make with each other, inside the organization, and with people outside who are brought in, at least a little bit, through their connections. And any individual who seeks to build their life to a place of possibility and fulfillment is wise to cultivate relationships with all kinds of people, to connect with people who they are like, with people they like, and with people they want to be like and yes, even with people with whom they have nothing in common.  Because underneath it all, in the most private place in our lives, people suspect that we all are connected in more ways than we think.   In this way, my network and your network and their network of connections provide needed resources, opportunities and a fresh supply of new connections as well.

So what is the connection between connection and persuasion?  To build a strong network of connections, a safety net of connections, developing your persuasive communication skills becomes imperative. If you don’t want to go it alone in life, if you want to make life simpler for yourself, you have to join with others, empower them as they empower you, and instead of take take take, practice the give and take.  The instinct to give back to the person who gives, to connect to the person who connects, is what makes connections hard to break.

Recently, a reporter asked me an interesting question. Why wouldn’t someone want to help a person who asked for help? Indeed, we do find plenty of evidence of selfishness in the way people relate to each other. Insisting on getting without doing much giving. Demanding instead of inviting. Polarizing and alienating instead of building bridges and destroying walls.

It seems to me that for the small minded and/or short sighted person, when there’s no apparent and immediate advantage, they find no point in sharing their knowledge and resources, their time and interest, their skill and ability. Or they provide so little of these things that the effect is negligible and goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

And if the person asking for help, through no fault of his or her own, winds up fulfilling the negative biases of the person they ask for help, they’ll have a hard time finding their way clear of those biases to get that help. It’s tough for people with walls of prejudice and mistaken concepts to notice how off putting they are. They often believe it’s something to do with everyone else, and fail to make the connection that being blind to the impact of their non-supportive behavior is what leaves them in turn isolated and unassisted.

There is an interesting connection to be made about what happens when people are tired, overworked, overwhelmed and angry. It means they can’t think clearly enough about what they are doing to recognize that their choices have consequences. It means they act without intention, react to circumstance with the minimum response. They miss the obvious truth that failing to help places them at risk of getting no help. That treating someone badly places them at risk of being treated badly in return. It’s not their intent. But missed connections are often the consequence of a lack of intent.

Our connections are fundamental to our success, our happiness and our quality of life. And we can connect in so many ways. Through our words. Through companionship. Through ideas. Through comments on blogs like this one.

So please, find a moment, make a comment, connect! I’m interested in the connections you make with the ideas that I blog about. Back in a couple of days….

be well,

Rick

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