Human interactions lie on a bell curve from acts of wanton violence to joyous collaboration. Every day we witness interactions from the full spectrum and live our lives in our own particular zone of competence. The pain of wanton destruction where people and societies degrade their interactions towards the left is clear to all.

Humans crave meaningful, creative collaboration with others. At all stages of life, we long for connection, shared activity and the celebration of achievement. When we mess up, we feel regret, anger and sadness. Repeated failure in conversations can lead to online addiction and alienation.

We explore six steps to connecting skilfully: physiology, emotion, mind, process and growth:

  1. Fix the blind spot – physiology

A school counsellor recently commented how “stressful” relationships were for schoolgirls. No question. Yet I am convinced from study and experience that many times it is a personal resilience failure that leads to relationship failure.

Many wrestle with the tigers of sleep disruption, anxiety, nutritional disruption, self-doubt, and empathy failure. In other words, at the moment in which a meaningful connection beckons, they are exhausted, hypoglycaemic, anxious and self absorbed.

Physiological compromise is at the heart of most broken partnerships, parenting failures, conflict and grievance. When sleep is disturbed, nutrition compromised and anxiety prevails we fail to concentrate, restrain impulse, empathise and collaborate. Those who give in to wanton violence are the most compromised and distressed. Those who operate on the connected side of the curve take care of themselves.

  1. The challenge of connection – emotion

Creative collaboration is the Holy Grail. The rarity of excellence defines the difficulty. An elite sport, performing art or business team in action is glorious. This is the creative edge of humanity. The foundation is powerful connection. Current research at Google and MIT independently show that empathy skill is THE significant factor in a high performing team. Empathy trumps intellect, technical skill, diversity, and communication styles in every study.

Empathy can be learned – starting at birth and extending through life – humans can awaken, improve and excel in empathy. Empathy is simple but the ability to exercise empathy requires strong foundations – emotional self-awareness, impulse control and attention. These take time and nurturing environments to mature. Introduce a little hunger, fatigue, anxiety or anger and they collapse bringing empathy and connection crashing down.

As we cultivate emotional intelligence and increase our capacity for empathy, meaningful connection, collaboration and creativity will follow. In every way we benefit, others benefit and we create a better world. But it is hard work. Seek out supportive and emotionally literate environments, study up on emotional intelligence, take care of yourself, and start early with your children.

  1. Purpose and courage – mind

Our own personal drives – food, sleep, sex, safety, power and money – scream loudly for attention. We must attend to these personal needs first, establishing what is actually required and what is demented addiction. Then we can raise our thinking to the higher-level purpose of connection and collaboration. We call this altruism. We have to exercise our capacity to embrace the world of others.

Purpose and courage hold the mind open to the immense potential for joy and flow in creative collaboration. It is always easier to default down to your own gratification. Purpose emerges when we have a clear vision of what is possible through connection. The clarity of that vision plus the courage to sustain the cycle of trial and failure keeps us open to learning and mastery.

Purpose and courage are essential to keep you on track through the important connections. Relationships go wrong. It is easier to back down on your truth. We feel we should make others happy. Be clear and stay the course.

  1. Planning – process

Every human interaction is important. While our impulse is to relax – to have a drink or to shoot the breeze, a case can be made for thinking through every interaction. Even a simple process to make the most of a connection will benefit all parties. Have a clear plan, prepare yourself, consider deeply those you are meeting, and review the experience for learning.

In particular, exercise your empathy muscles by anticipating how others might be in body, emotion and mind. What are their interests? What are their core concerns? The graphic below might be a useful template for more important conversations and team meetings.


  1. Review, learn and recommit – growth

It is easy for things to go wrong when we try to solve problems together. Even the most skilled negotiators with excellent planning mess up. We have to keep learning and the best way to do that is quick, honest review. Even a simple: “It was really good to talk today. Thank you. How was it for you?”

Whether in a personal catch up, a team meeting, a difficult conversation or a tough negotiation it is always important to reflect, understand the different experiences of participants, and clarify the next steps.

To accelerate your development, you may like to consider a coach or a mentor to help your through these five steps.

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