Forward thinking: Connecting with others

I confess — I’m a people person.

I truly enjoy being with people. Talking with people… engaging in activities with people.

Furthermore, at this stage of my life, I seriously doubt if I will be making any significant changes. Somewhere in my DNA is a “people person” gene. I came into the world with it and when I make my transition, I will leave with it still intact.

Going a step further, I seldom consider myself to be boring or out of touch when it comes to communication. Yet I’m sure I am on those occasions when I am passionate about my message.

The truth be known most of us seldom consider ourselves to be boring or out-of-touch communicators, yet oftentimes that’s exactly what we are. We may be passionate about our message, but we don’t understand how to craft it in a way that resonates with our audience. As a result, others tune us out, and we have difficulty influencing them.

So, when it comes to connecting with people — is it a learned or natural talent? Stated differently… what makes people listen? I have reflected on this question off and on for a long time and have developed some personal opinions. However, before passing along that information, allow me to state that great communicators make connections. They have a handful of qualities that garner the interest and attention of their audience. By harnessing these qualities, communicators earn the right to be heard, and their words carry weight.

In brief, I have discovered or observed that there are four qualities of a communicator who connects with people.

The first quality is relationships. Who you know. Let me share an example.

After reading about German experiments with uranium in scientific journals, physicist Leo Szilard became concerned about the possibilities of the Nazis developing an atomic bomb. Alarmed, the American scientist decided to alert President Franklin Roosevelt.

Lacking direct access to the president, Szilard drafted a letter and then convinced Albert Einstein to sign it. With Einstein’s name affixed to it, the letter of warning reached Mr. Roosevelt’s desk and prompted him to form a commission to research nuclear fission. That commission later became the Manhattan Project, which invented the atomic bomb and helped the United States end World War II.

Leo Szilard’s letter to Mr. Roosevelt illustrates an important principle of connection: borrowed influence. Szilard leveraged his relationship with Albert Einstein to get his message to the White House.

One of the quickest ways to gain credibility with an individual, a group, or an audience is to borrow from someone who already has established a trust with them. It’s the basis for celebrity endorsements, sales referrals and word-of-mouth advertising. Who you know can open the door to connect with someone.

The second quality is insight. What you know. Insight also opens the door to connection. Szilard’s impressive credentials as a physicist earned him the respect and consideration of his colleague, Albert Einstein. In turn, Einstein’s expertise as a scientist gave him a platform from which to communicate with the leader of the United States.

If you have an area of expertise and generously share it with others, you give people reasons to respect you and develop a sense of connection with you. We tend to listen to people who have specialized knowledge. That’s why trial lawyers call upon credentialed witnesses, and universities hire people with advanced degrees to be professors.

The third quality is ability. What you can do. Individuals who perform at high level in their profession gain instant credibility with others. Basketball phenom, LeBron James, exuded so much ability as a high school senior that Nike signed him to a $90 million endorsement deal at age 18. On account of his tremendous talent, people who have never met James admire him, wanted to be like him and felt connected to him. His ability carries so much influence that people will even mimic his shoe selection.

When people of rare ability speak, others listen – even if the area of their skill has nothing to do with the advice they give. Scary but true. For instance, LeBron James has endorsed State Farm Insurance. I ask you, does James have expertise in the insurance industry? Probably not, but he’s arguably the best ball player in the world, and people listen to him because of what he can do.

The fourth quality is sacrifice. How have you lived. People connect with those who sacrifice for the good of others. Each year, Gallup conducts a poll to determine the profession most admired by Americans. Since being added to the list of professions in 1999, nursing has claimed the top spot the most years – hands down.

If you have made sacrifices or overcome painful obstacles, many, many people will relate to you. For example, notice how much respect is given to veterans of the armed services; we admire them going into harm’s way to protect our country. Think also about the weight that is given to the words and actions of civil rights leaders who helped pave the way for improved race relations in the United States.

Or you might consider the regard we have for those who have survived the ravages of cancer. In short, we tend to listen to people who have persevered through adversity – especially when they’ve undergone personal costs in order to serve others.

In closing, I would quickly point out that the above four qualities of connections are by no means a comprehensive list. It’s only my list. I am confident that you can think of other reasons people connect.

My point is that you must take whatever you have and use it to connect with others. The more methods of connection you have — and the better you become at using them — the greater your chance of connecting with people.

That my friend is a worthy accomplishment.

Until next time…

–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.

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