Human connection is a bond between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued for the person they are and the person they are becoming. I believe that in the core of our being, there is a need for human connection and community; that we’re wired to desire it and we flourish when we have it.
As it turns out, science confirms that our overall well-being depends on our connections with others. In an article by Gareth Cook in Scientific American, scientist Matthew Lieberman uncovers the neuroscience of human connections. He points out that most businesses worldwide pay for performance is the only incentive used to motivate employees. But there’s more to motivating individuals than mere pay increases. It’s been found that while all people are motivated by some common factors like increased pay, everyone has unique individual motivators that can only be met through human connection.
While doing jail ministry for 13 years, I quickly realized that before these incarcerated women would receive anything I had to say, I would first need to make a human connection with each one individually. There’s a big difference between jail ministry and prison ministry. For one thing, jail ministry was short term. I never knew who I would see from week to week. This one time of meeting was critical as it may be the only opportunity for me to help these women feel seen, heard, and valued. But how could I effectively and instantly connect with them on an individual level in a group setting? Doesn’t it take time – much time – to cultivate connection with others?
It is true that relationships grow and deepen over time, but it is equally true that we can make a human connection immediately. It begins with intentionality and deliberate action.
Sean Stephenson is a perfect example of intentionally to make true human connections. Sean was a popular motivational speaker for 25 years until his passing in 2019. He had a rare bone disorder that stunted his growth and caused his bones to be extremely fragile. By the time he was a teenager he had already broken 300 bones in his body. Sean made it his mission to have true connection with people. He intentionally lived a life to meet people and get to know their lives. In the process, he discovered valuable truths like
- taking the time to listen and emotionally connect with others has the power to transform lives
- that listening is different than hearing
- remembering someone’s name is critical in building contentedness
- that it is each of our responsibility to connect with people
Whether you have a team of two in a marriage relationship, or a team of 50 in a professional setting, true connection is vital to building stronger, more connected teams. But what is true connection? Maybe to answer that question, it’s best to begin with what connection isn’t. True connection isn’t merely exchanging words and information. Rather, it is an interchange of emotions, feelings, and personality between people.
Whether you need to make a human connection quickly like in a jail ministry setting or cultivate and nurture it over time as with a team at work, being intentional about human connection will reap incredible results.
Some key points in building a human connection effectively and quickly are
- Be aware of your body language
- Make eye contact
- Use a welcoming tone of voice
- Know their names and use them
- Be present in the conversation
- Listen more than you speak
- Express warmth through physical touch like a pat on the back, a touching of an arm, a shaking of hands, or even a hug when appropriate
Human connection is valuable. It builds bonds that are not easily broken, it gives a sense of meaning and purpose, it bridges the gap in differences, and it levels the ground in which we stand. We’re all people in need of the same thing, true human connection.
Sometimes we will have the opportunity to witness the results of building stronger human connections as we do when leading a team while other times we will be completely unaware if we’ve made an impact as with doing jail ministry. Regardless if we have the privilege of seeing the results or not, we must keep pressing forward to cultivate true human connection. When we are intentional and with a pure heart, we sometimes are granted an opportunity to witness results we normally wouldn’t know.
For me was such an occasion. I heard my name called by a beautiful young woman who was sitting with her family in the next booth over from me. She could tell I didn’t recognize who she was, so she freely reminded me of the jail where we had met. She introduced me to her parents and to her children who were recently given back to her by the state. She told me about the job she had and how well she was doing. She thanked me for helping her feel seen, heard, and valued. This was an incredible moment, not just for her, but for me. Janice and I shared a true human connection that has significant value.
The saying, “No one cares what you know until they know that you care” is more than an adage. It’s a truth worth embracing. It’s the foundation for true human connection.