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“In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” ~Albert Einstein

There is a myth that goes like this: Effective communication promotes effective collaboration, in a family, on a team, and in the office.

It’s a start, yes, and alone is not enough to get people to want to work with or for you.

Connection is imperative in human relationships, and communication is the way we attempt to connect.

But, you can be the best technical communicator—you may know all about body language, meta-messaging, or NLP—and if you don’t let your heart enter the conversation on occasion, if you don’t connect with your listeners, they may try (or not) to do what you want, but they’ll leave their hearts behind—because you didn’t bring yours to the party.

If you’ve had a teenage child you’ve seen it in action: the body may be participating, but the spirit is somewhere else. There are whole teams like that, whole families. Disengagement sets in with disconnection.

Like any other muscle, our ability to connect with other people is based on practice and calculated risk-taking in conversations. It requires taking a few chances sometimes. All great athletes do it on the sports field, all great journalists do it in an interview, as do all great leaders in the boardroom.

The same is true of connection. If the only regular ‘practice’ you get strengthening your ability to connect is around a meeting table, or on-line, or through your laptop or smartphone, then your connection muscles are under developed.

Time to hit the gym.

Here are a couple of exercises. We’ll start with the easy stuff first. Think walking compared to a stair master.

Token Smile

If you are like the millions who ride mass transit trains, subways or buses, you have a veritable treasure trove of easy pickings, an abundance of ample opportunities to connect with anonymous strangers, every day, who you don’t ever have to see again, which makes it a great place to start practicing.

The people who work in mass transit stations see a stream of people roll by them like a riptide. If one person—like you—stops as they put their token in the box in the subway station, if that person looks into their eyes and says ‘thank you’, then that can make a difference in their day. It’s that simple. A ‘thank you’, a smile, and off you go!

And I heartily encourage you to consider giving away a token smile every time you use a token to travel somewhere.

Hold That Door!

This is an easy one, too: Hold the door for the person behind you. Done!

Oh, as many times a day as possible.

Most of us do this often and instinctually anyway. I’m asking you to do it intentionally, to hold the door for the person trailing you because you want to make the journey for the person behind you easier. Even if you’re rushed, or worried, or weary, holding the door for someone else is a small, simple, easy act to strengthen your other-awareness muscle. One little push-up.

And I’m suggesting you do it not because you have to but because you want to.

The thing about doing something you want to do is that it shows up in our body language; there’s a congruency between words and gestures, there’s an authenticity in the micro-messaging that others pick up unconsciously, but respond to consciously.

Your face will reflect your intention of wanting to help, and you’ll smile, naturally. “It’s in the eyes, Chico.”

Another way to exercise holding the door is when you’re with a group of people—headed to a meeting, or lunch or whatever—be the first to arrive at the door and intentionally hold it open as you step back and let everyone else through before you. In other words, think about it, become more aware, before you get to the door, increase your walking pace so that you arrive at the door first, reach out and pull it open, and step aside. All of those actions take conscious choice.

Here’s what that one simple act does: It increases your “other awareness.”

More on that next week.


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