Wright Foundation | February 4, 2020

How to Engage with Others and Build Lasting Connections

How do we build stronger, lasting connections with people? People come and go in our lives, but here’s how to make deeper connections.

Learn how to build lasting relationships and connect with others.

I have a good friend who’s a Presbyterian leader. He and I barely ever get together, but those times when we do, our conversations are always energizing and exciting because we’ve built a lasting connection.

Many of us have friends we rarely see, but when we do, we share a bond. Maybe you have a great deal in common, or perhaps you share one significant commonality but are otherwise quite different. These people come and go in our lives, but they’re important. You may value the relationship even though you don’t hang out regularly.

Years ago, we would keep in touch with occasional letters, a get-together when we were in town, or perhaps a lunch once in a while. These days, we’re probably connected on Facebook, LinkedIn, or another spot on social media.

But are these relationships really lasting? How do we foster our important relationships and turn them into lasting connections?

Sharing Common Ideals

My Presbyterian friend and I click because we share common ideals. I met him when I was hoping to get him interested in our transformational leadership program. He came to lunch with me, grilled me on theology, and we instantly got into higher-purpose discussions.

Not only did I pass his substance test in leadership after our conversation, but we found out we connected around theology and a general higher purpose. Ever since then, he and I cross paths whenever we find an opportunity. I often introduce him to people he might want to network with, and he will do the same for me.

Now, the truth is, he and I aren’t best friends. In fact, we barely ever get together. But when we do, those times are about a higher purpose. He’s busy with his life, and I’m busy with mine, but we have a lasting relationship and connection.

Building lasting connections with others isn’t about friendship for the sake of adding another number to your “friends list” on social media. If we want to build relationships that nourish us, we need to find how we align with others.

Not every relationship fits in the category of “lasting connection” either. We may know many people who we grew up with, shared college experiences, or jobs with. Those people are more of our everyday acquaintances. We may click and share commonalities (especially when our experiences intersect), but we may not share a deep, lifelong bond or a lasting connection.

Research tells us there are many reasons to cultivate relationships in our lives at all levels and in all circles. When people speak to a stranger on the train, for example, they report having a better experience on their commute. When we build up our connections with the people we pass on a day-to-day basis, like the barista at our local coffee shop, the doorman in our building, or the waiter at our favorite lunch spot, the connections can lead to eventual friendship. These lose social connections are essential to our wellbeing (and may turn into stronger ties down the road).

Craving a Lasting Connection

You may think, “Well, that’s great. I interact with a lot of people regularly, but I don’t have a lot of deeper friendships or close relationships.” The question then becomes: what are you doing to develop lasting relationships with others?

If you want to build more lasting connections than you’re developing now, it’s a lot easier if you align your life to a higher purpose. As you discover your sense of purpose, you will naturally attract and draw in others who share your ideals.

Most of us are very reason-oriented in getting together with others, even socially. We need to gather for an event, a seminar, a meeting, a dinner date.  Did you raise your kids together? Are you neighbors? Do the kids play hockey together? When your kids finish hockey, your lasting connection depends on what you shared while you were sitting in the stands, watching your kids on the ice.

You’ll often hear of businesspeople who want to build a lasting connection with a potential client. So what do they do? They take them to a nice dinner or a social event. They spend time with them and get to know them.

It calls back to a scene in the film, “The Big Kahuna” with Danny DeVito. In the movie, DeVito’s character, a businessman, is discussing a missed opportunity with his young protégé. He tells him the man who they missed (the “big kahuna”) was a very good friend of his.

“Is it because I’ve known him for a long time? Well, there are many people I’ve known for a very long time.” He explains that most of them he doesn’t trust, or he could take or leave because they don’t matter to him. “But Larry,” he explains, “matters very much. The reason being, I can trust him. I know I can trust him. He’s honest.”

His colleague asks if he’s honest or just blunt. DeVito’s character goes on to explain, “There are a lot of people who are blunt but not honest, but Larry isn’t one of those. Larry is an honest man.” He explains it doesn’t matter what you’re preaching or selling. “If you want to talk to someone honestly as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are, just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore, it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.”

He goes on to say honesty is born of character and making mistakes. If you don’t have regrets, you can’t have character. “It’s when you see the folly in something you’ve done, and you wish you could do it over, but you know you can’t because it’s too late. So you pick that thing up, and you carry it with you to remind you that life goes on. The world will spin without you. It really doesn’t matter in the end. Then you’ll attain character because honesty will reach out from the inside and tattoo itself on your face.”

This is a great monologue; I highly recommend checking out the whole film. There’s a powerful message there. So many of us want deeper engagement. We crave lasting connections with others, but we’re afraid to put ourselves out there. We’re afraid to be honest and share with others because we don’t allow ourselves the vulnerability of getting personal.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Personal

There’s a basic skill to how deeply you connect when you meet people. Some people hesitate or feel self-conscious. You might worry about what the other person thinks of you. You might be entrenched in the social norms and mores you were raised with. Perhaps you aren’t comfortable talking to strangers; you worry you’re too much, or not enough.

When we hold back, it’s often an indication there’s something within we need to work on. Explore where your fear is stemming and why you’re afraid. Challenge yourself to test the waters. What if you strike up a new conversation with someone in the elevator? So it feels awkward at first. So what? If you want to build a lasting connection with others, it begins with a conversation.

If you really want to connect with new people, find out what matters to them. What matters to you? Share that information. Can you find a way to contribute to their lives? Where does the Venn diagram of your purpose align?

In a professional setting, you might feel like you can’t connect completely because talking about your purpose feels too personal, but the truth is people are people. We all have yearnings and beliefs. We all have a purpose. Even in a business setting, businesspeople are just that—people.

You might not immediately share your purpose with others, but you can find out what they’re about and how they think about what they do. What is the big why that drives them? Is it a career? A church? A committee or board they serve?

As Danny DeVito’s character said in the film, you must earn the right to ask others what their big why is with authenticity and honesty. You earn the right to connect with others by being interested in them as people first and foremost. As you express your interest, the substance begins to develop in your relationship, and you earn the right to ask about their bigger whys.

It’s by this openness and honesty we develop durable relationships and build lasting connections. Whether you see each other occasionally or all the time, you will forge a lifelong bond if you connect over the higher purpose that drives you.

For more ways to build greater connections, visit us at the Wright Foundation. Don’t miss our upcoming networking opportunities where you’ll connect with others on their transformational journey. Start living your best life today!

Dr. Bob Wright

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.