You know the importance of connecting with others.
You’ve learned how engaging with those around you helps you find new opportunities, make discoveries, and live a life of adventure and fulfillment.
But what do you do if you don’t work in a traditional 9-5 job? Is networking only for those who go to the office each day? Or only for those who work in the business world?
Not at all! Everyone can learn to connect and engage with those around them. Here’s how to network with others, even if you work from home!
“I feel like I’m losing my mind!” said Stacy, a young mom who I was working with. “Ever since I started consulting from home after the baby was born, I just feel so…lonely! Yes, I talk to my baby daughter all the time, but she doesn’t talk back yet. Most of my client interactions are online or occasionally over the phone. I feel like I’ve forgotten how to talk to people.”
Stacy’s problem is one faced by many folks who don’t work in a traditional job. These days, with mobile office work being accessible and in-fashion, it seems none of us ever need to leave the comfort of our laptop. Add in social media, and we may feel as though there’s no need to interact with others.
However, humans need social interaction to survive and thrive. Studies have shown the importance of having a social network (in real life), even the importance of loose social ties like your barista, uber driver, or your pals at the gym. These connections help broaden our circle of influence. They offer us essential connections and opportunities for engagement.
As I advised Stacy, we must honor our need to engage and our yearning to be seen and heard by other people. Yearnings are universal longings all humans share. Human connection is a common yearning; we yearn for closeness with others.
Now, Stacy could cultivate connections by spending time with her husband, making time for friends, becoming involved in classes, attending networking events, and volunteering in the community. She could even turn it into a game by seeing how many people she could engage with during her day. Could she strike up a conversation with other moms at the park? Could she engage with the barista at Starbucks?
Since her time was limited—balancing caring for an infant, responding to clients, and keeping up with her daily tasks—we discussed the importance of maximizing her engagement when she found the opportunity to connect with other adults.
When we think of engagement, picture it across a spectrum or continuum. On one side, there’s a superficial type of engagement. These are interactions like, “How’s the weather?” or “What about the Cubs?”
On the other side, we have in-depth, transformative engagement. These are the huge, transformational conversations where we’re connecting, not just about our relationship with the other person, but the world-in-general.
Now, not every interaction will fall on the transformational end of the spectrum, but the stronger our engagement with others, the more the interaction feeds and nourishes our soul. If you’re starving for deeper connections, you must make each interaction count.
How do you engage with others? Engagement comes not just from talking with someone, or even from being a great listener.
Bob often likes to strike up a conversation with waitstaff and those in the checkout line by asking them what their dreams and goals are. At first, people seem taken aback, like, “Why the heck is this stranger asking me these questions?” But then the conversation progresses, and suddenly they’re building a great rapport. Bob has made many friends and beautiful connections this way.
Studies found that positive engagement with others makes a difference in our day. One study challenged people riding the “L” in Chicago to talk to someone on their commute; another group was challenged to ignore everyone around them. The people who didn’t need to speak to anyone predicted they would have a better commute. The people who were asked to engage thought it was going to feel awkward and uncomfortable, but the outcome was the complete opposite—the people who engaged were much happier. They reported the simple interaction had made their day!
Good engagers are emotionally intelligent and in-tune. They understand what emotions they’re feeling at the moment, and they know how to express them. They’re straightforward about what they want and what they need. They’re aware of their yearnings, and they’re asking to get their yearnings met!
This type of engagement doesn’t happen overnight. It requires practice and mindfulness. Each day, when you interact with others, take a moment to connect. Strike up a conversation, not just about the weather or sports. Ask how the other person is doing. Offer compliments and ask for what you need.
How often do you hold back in conversation? You may play out scenarios in your head like, “those people probably think I’m weird,” or “I bet they look at me and think I don’t fit in,” or “I have nothing to offer and don’t know what to say?”
These narratives we’ve constructed stem from limiting beliefs about ourselves. We may think we’re not enough or we’re too much and should hold back. Maybe we believe we don’t have much to offer. We’re not smart enough. People won’t like us if they see who we are.
Think of the last time you hosted a great party with your pals. Chances are, you were engaging and comfortable. You probably poured the wine, made sure everyone was having a lovely time and sent guests home with leftovers. More importantly, you went into the function with confidence, because this was YOUR event.
What if you applied the same mentality to each interaction during your day? If you find a meetup group or a networking function, pretend to be the host. Don’t linger in the corners. Instead, realize everyone else is feeling the same awkwardness or discomfort you are. What would you say if they were your friends? What would you do if it was your dinner party?
Not everyone is comfortable with networking because of those feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness. When you start to “become the host,” you shift the narrative. You aren’t waiting for someone to reach out to you—you’re seeking new people out. You’re making sure everyone is engaged and enjoying themselves. You’re taking the initiative.
Hosting doesn’t apply to network events only, either. Connection is essential in every situation, not just formal happy hours and cocktail gatherings. Strike up a conversation wherever you go. Ask people for a recommendation: What service would you recommend? What’s your impression of this sculpture? Do you know a good doctor? What music are you into? What do you think of this option?
When you become the host, you gain an immediate sense of belonging. You start to strengthen your in-real-life interactions, which are so crucial if you work from home. Even if you send an email, be a little friendlier. If you’re on a call, really engage with the person you’re speaking with. Soak up interactions and allow them to nourish your yearning for engagement.
For more ways to connect with others, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training weekend, where we’ll explore new ways to engage with everyone in your life. We’re also excited to announce that many of our courses are available for download at a special introductory price. Don’t miss this excellent opportunity to learn more!
The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.