Published by David Lapin under Uncategorized
July 25, 2012
As an orthodox Jewish person with mostly non-Jewish clients – many of them senior executives at Fortune 500 companies – I often wonder whether my differences set me apart and inhibit my connection with them. Does the fact that I wear a yarmulke (discreet head covering), eat only kosher food and am unavailable for business on the Sabbath, make it harder for my clients to connect with me? The alternative would be to sacrifice my authenticity on the altar of expedience; but that would compromise the very essence of what I have dedicated my life to teach.
Authenticity implies difference. We are all a little different from one another when it comes to the things that we believe in at the deepest levels. Often we unintentionally hide these differences from others because we are afraid of not fitting in with them. But in doing so we lose our edge, we lose what makes us unique – our competitive advantage. We commoditize our characters and abandon the most attractive quality that anyone can have: their authenticity.
It is true that being authentic to our own values can erect invisible barriers between ourselves and others (see Chameleons are Losers), but there are easy ways to overcome this. We have tools for connection that traverse both individual and cultural differences. These tools help us connect with people in all situations, even, or especially, when we are having hard conversations with another person and don’t want them to shut down in defensiveness. I have found that we only have and only need four tools with which to connect quickly and meaningfully:
Voice: People establish connection when they communicate. However, if you listen to the content of the communication between two people who have just met, say sitting together on a plane, you quickly realize from the often trivial nature of their conversation, that it is not the content that connects them but the mere phenomenon of communication by voice. Each of our voices are unique, and when we share our voice with others, we expose something deeply unique about us thereby making ourselves just a little vulnerable. This opens the channels to connection and helps us instantly overcome the differences between us. So when you meet a stranger and want to connect, speak! It doesn’t even matter what you say as long as it is not offensive.
Eye-contact: Like voice, our eyes are as unique to us as our fingerprints are. By looking at a person’s eyes you honor their uniqueness and reveal your own. Eyes are also windows to the soul. You can see so much about another person when you look directly at their eyes. People can manipulate their facial muscles to project a mood that they may not genuinely be feeling but they can’t manipulate their eyes. As you practice reading a person’s mood and state of being from their eyes more than from their facial muscles, you will get a more accurate reading of where they are at emotionally. This enhances connection.
Touch: Touch is another tool of connection: A mindful handshake, a light touch on the arm, an arm around a shoulder. Genuine gestures of physical contact all connect people much more intensely than any other way. In touch, as well as in eye contact, one does need to be sensitive to cultural norms. For example some religions prohibit physical contact between genders if the couple are not closely related, and in some cultures eye contact with someone more senior or older than oneself can be seen as disrespectful. Try not to let the fear of making a cultural blunder hold you back from authentic connection (unless you know and understand the other person’s culture well). Generally, people respect and appreciate an authentic gesture of connection and are forgiving of cultural ignorance.(See When In Rome, Do Not Do as the Romans Do.)
Gestures of kindness: The most impactful and culturally neutral tool of connection is an act of kindness no matter how small. It is surprising how many opportunities to show kindness we miss every day. Sometimes we are too preoccupied or self-absorbed to notice the needs of others around us. Sometimes we are too shy to initiate an interaction. Whatever the case, try to experiment! Seek out opportunities to do little things for the people around you, show them that you acknowledge them, care about them and honor them, and watch the connection blossom.
Sometimes we use our differences as excuses not to connect. Sometimes we compromise our differences in order to connect. Neither avoidance of connection nor compromise of difference is necessary. You can be authentic to who you are and bridge the natural barriers between strangers with any or all of these four connector tools. If a friend or client wants me to be someone different from whom I am, why would I want to associate or do business with them? Fortunately there are enough people in the world who value me for who I am and who, in turn, I value and honor for who they are. Our uniqueness and differences add richness, depth and allure to our connections and help us become greater in who we each are and what we stand for.