Small Moves: 100 Days of Connection

“Because it is familiar a thing remains unknown.” Hegel

IMG_3186

Day 100 – “My first 6th grade essay – piece of cake!”

There is a powerful moment at the beginning of the movie “Contact” when young Ellie is calling out on her shortwave radio. She is trying to find someone, anyone, who might be listening on the same frequency. As her frustration grows her dad implores her, “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.”

Finally, someone answers. A man from Pensacola. Ellie is so startled that she doesn’t know what to say.

The movie takes us from this intimate moment between a father and a daughter to a wormhole in deepest space. The story arcs from what is closest and dearest all the way out to an astonishing celestial frontier before curving back to the familiar ground of the here and now. It reminds us that as far as we might travel to find what we are looking for, the things – the people – we most want and need in our lives are usually very close at hand. Connection always requires small moves and in my experience those moves consistently lead right back to what we most need to learn.

This is my lesson after 100 days of seeking connection: I have been looking for something that was not lost. Connection is always one small move away. It’s familiarity is the perfect hiding place.

Ellie is young when her father dies. What becomes her quest to discover life on other planets is really a search for a way back to her dad, a way back to what is familiar and comforting. Is it any surprise that when she does make contact with an “extraterrestrial” it takes the form of her dad, using the known to settle the confusion of the new?

An early, significant loss can make future attachment very hard. It’s just so easy to defend against the possibility of experiencing that old pain in a new way. In my experience it was easier to either smother another person to get them to reject me or to cooly keep my distance to avoid revealing my vulnerability. Of course, both responses left me disconnected and alone, reinforcing my belief that connection could only be attained through a perfect alignment of very specific variables. All or nothing is rarely a successful approach when it comes to matters of the heart.

I am just slightly wiser after these one hundred days. I am more awake to connection’s continuous presence and the deep satisfaction that comes with moving towards it each day. I am more aware of how small moves often feel insufficient in the moment, like breadcrumbs for a starving man. Through sheer redundancy of attention I also see that there’s no other way to do it. Ellie’s discovery of a message from outer space came from years of dedicated listening, one frequency at a time.

At the end of the film the alien who has taken the form of Ellie’s dad says to her:

“You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

My most recent 25 connection photos can be seen here.  Days 1-25 are here. And days 26-50 are here. Days 51-75 are here.

DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.

Others

IMG_2134

Gathering

“You do know, don’t you, that the people you are most threatened by are invariably just like you?” – Richard Rohr – 

I met a friend near the beach yesterday afternoon. We planned to sit and have some conversation, opting not for the coffee shop but for an ocean view. It was low tide and the beach was expansive, endless flat sand stretching away in either direction.

My friend suggested we take advantage of the tide and stretch our legs. Normally, that’s an easy “yes” but I hesitated in light of the fact that I was dressed for “business” – button down, slacks, dress shoes – having come directly from other meetings.

But the beach was calling and it is surely some kind of sin to ignore it so we did not. I quickly and awkwardly transformed from “business guy” to “business guy who just decided to take a walk on the beach.” Dress shoes off, socks stuffed inside, pants rolled up and very white feet exposed to sun and sand, we set off. I was the fish out of water. But only to me.

I have always had a complicated relationship with relationships. Part of it – a healthier part than I may be able to admit – is due to the fact that when I am surrounded by talented people – smart, funny, accomplished – I often choose to allow their qualities to serve as a measuring stick to which I am not equal. I would like to be one who celebrates others more freely, reveling in their achievements without it having to have something to do with me, good or bad. Sometimes I am able to do this, sometimes not. When I operate from my lower self I know that it is because I haven’t met my own standard and I can’t tolerate being reminded of it with the example of other’s good work. The easy remedy is to reject and isolate.

But I can’t go it alone. I need others and knowing the depth of that need creates a vulnerability that can be hard to take. Others – those most important others – can build us up, make us stronger, accept our awkwardness. Others reflect back to us with precision the truth of who we are. Sometimes, like the glare off of a sparkling ocean, it is impossible to see it without squinting and turning away. It can be hard to look at ourselves.

As I keep learning how to walk in the world, the more I am able to see and understand the complications and possibilities embedded in understanding the self, others and the new entity that is formed when they come together. It is awkward at times, sort of like a man in business attire casually walking the coastline, but getting your feet wet always is.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well.

The person in front of you right now is the most important person in the world

At a speaking engagement recently I met a man who is almost completely deaf. He told me that the most important leadership quality is the ability to listen. Coming from anyone else this would seem to be an obvious statement, almost a cliché. For him, it is not.

He expressed to me that even with his hearing impairment he understands people very well when he is speaking to them face-to-face and one-on-one. Once a conversation grows to include even one additional person, however, he can understand only about 15% of what’s being said. (Do those of us with no hearing impairment ever do much better?)

As I was talking with him I noticed myself paying very careful attention to how I expressed myself. I took greater care to be clear, to articulate and to enunciate. I took greater care to check for understanding. I became more thoughtful in listening to his responses and questions because I didn’t want to miss anything; because I wanted him to know that I was fully present.

I did that with him because it was obvious I needed to. I did that because without intention, attention and focus from both of us our interaction would not be successful. What would happen if I brought that same recipe of consideration to every conversation? What would happen if we all did?

He went on to tell me that he had recently declined an invitation to assume a leadership role in an organization he supports because he couldn’t imagine how a person with a hearing impairment so severe could effectively lead others. My heart sank.

I told him that any organization would be fortunate to experience his leadership; to learn how to truly listen to one another through his example and necessity. I don’t think I changed his mind. What he requires to be effective as a communicator is the intimacy, connection and consideration of a thoughtful face-to-face interaction. Sadly, wise to the world as he is, he knows that what he needs is too prohibitive, too time-intensive, too slow. And so he opts out.

I understand completely why, under the circumstances, he doesn’t want to lead. What he doesn’t know, however, is that through his influence on me he already has.

 

 

 

Connection: Some Questions, Thoughts and Stories

“We have become postgraduates in the art of acquaintance and paupers in the art of friendship.” John O’donohue

The Dunbar Number – approximately 150 – is “the number of people you can have a relationship with involving trust and obligation – there’s some personal history, not just names and faces.” 

A Facebook “friend,” a person I knew in high school but by no means was ever friends with, died an untimely death last week. I have no knowledge of the circumstances. I have no details to share. I last saw this person in the spring of 1987. I am saddened by the news, of course, but in an indirect way. It’s a hollow feeling lacking the depth that comes from the experience of a personal loss. More than likely, the sadness I feel is a result of my projections onto the situation; a mid-forties parent leaving behind children and family, a person with so much more life to live cut down in their prime. How can I not see myself in that storyline?

In truth, I feel lousy that I feel so little. Even though I know the word “friend” has been appropriated I do not like knowing that I am “friends” with people for whom I feel no friendship. Perhaps the purpose is to remind me of my responsibility and desire to deepen my connection with those whose friendship needs no quotation marks.

On a family campout this weekend I was talking with a friend about the importance of connection and, of course, the irony of how little connection there is in our highly connected world. I am no Luddite but I am paying attention and this is what I see. More importantly, it’s what I feel. There we were, circled around a bunch of flashlights (No campfire. Too many wildfires.), connected through food and conversation, learning about one another, telling stories, sharing ideas. I made some new acquaintances this weekend. I also deepened some friendships. It was the point of the campout. It was good.

I forgot my bank card last week so had to actually go into the bank to deposit a check. I met Coral, the teller, and used my tired attempt at ironic humor when I expressed my “frustration” over the “unfortunate circumstance of actually having to deal with a human being.” I’m glad I did as it sparked a lively exchange. She proceeded to tell me that when her friends get together for dinner they put all of their “devices” in the middle of the table. The first person to reach for a phone has to pay the entire check. She said, “I eat a lot of free meals.” As I expressed my admiration for her restraint she continued, “well, why do I need it? I’m already with the people I would be calling or texting.” Score one for the good guys.

Yes, I want more “followers” and, yes, I want more “friends.” Is it crass or narcissistic to say so, to admit that I want more exposure for my ideas and more opportunity to grow my business? Conversely, is it crass to want access to the new learning and the new possibilities that emerge from my new “connections”? I don’t think it is. But my responsibility is to not be confused by which is which; to not be ruled by an abstraction of friendship, connection or relationship rather than by an individual, real experience of it.

I have 1,000+ LinkedIn “Connections,” I have 500 Facebook “Friends” and about the same number of Twitter “Followers.”

And there’s about 25 people I could call on the phone right now who would take the time to listen. I call them friends.

 

I am the kind of person who…

johari-window1The Johari Window is a simple and clear model that reminds us that the best way to build trust and meaningful relationships is to share more of ourselves with those we wish to know. Because sharing more of ourselves typically works as a catalyst to others sharing more with us, pretty soon we build up a virtuous cycle of shared knowledge that helps to increase trust and deepen relationships. If all of this comes across as a bit too academic for your tastes its because I have recited this same truism a thousand times. And, as many times as I make this case in front of audiences, teams  or coaching  clients I inevitably get a somewhat strained (to put it lightly) response.

1. “You expect me to tell people about myself?”

2. “How much do I have to share?”

3. “You expect me to ask my employees about themselves?”

4. “How much do I have to know?” (Important subtext of this question is another unspoken question: “what if I don’t want to know / I don’t care?”).

My answers:

1. Yes, yes I do expect that.

2. I have no no idea how much you should share. Use your common sense.

3. Yes, I do expect that.

4. You need to know as much as necessary to make it feel like a real relationship and not some fabrication intended to manipulate others into doing what you want.

And, that’s where this becomes a leadership discussion. If you are a leader, your job is to learn about and care about your people and to help them, based on what you know about who they are and what the organization needs, make as big and meaningful a contribution as possible to the enterprise. If you can’t do that or if you aren’t even willing to try, you absolutely have no right calling yourself a leader.

Ok, enough ranting.

If you’re up for a little (simple and easy) professional relationship building exercise, with an individual or in a team setting, try this:

Have everyone privately write down 10 responses to the following statement:

“I am the kind of person who…”

Get together and share your responses. On flip chart paper is best because then you can also see what they wrote as they take you through it but just reading it to one another will work just fine.

You can’t respond to the statement 10 times without revealing something personal/interesting/curious/fun/enlightening about yourself. Don’t over think it, it’s just what happens. And then you’ll be off and running with new-found information about your colleagues and peers and, if you are at all intrepid and even slightly curious you’ll turn that into a relationship building gold mine.

Give it a try.