Growing up, I would listen to my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors play this game around connecting people within the community. They would read about someone in the paper or overhear news at the store and then get together and talk about how they were connected to the person who was the story’s subject.
I remember them saying things like, “Oh ya, that is old Eddy’s grandson,” or “Wasn’t that Aunt Mary’s husband’s cousin on his dad’s side? I thought so!”
Fast forward to today, and I am playing a similar connect-the-dots game. Whenever someone needs something, such as a job, a doctor, or a date, I think about how I can utilize my connections to help them. For me, it’s like solving a riddle that I find far more rewarding than any Sudoku puzzle. It’s enjoyable to see how I can connect with people, and I have to admit that my success rate for job placement has been much higher than my triumphs in the romantic department.
I assumed everyone experienced the same pleasant feeling when connecting with others, but I realized that not everyone finds it as exciting or rewarding as I do. I’m guessing it probably goes back to those summer nights, listening to my elders make connections in our community.
One of those summer nights as a kid, I picked up my parents’ copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and that book brought an entirely new perspective to the idea of connecting with others. I have read it several times throughout my life, and after a breakup with a boyfriend, I remember asking for my original Dale Carnegie book back because I couldn’t bear to lose it.
Thinking back, I learned a lot from that book as a shy 7th grader, and many of those lessons I still find valuable today. When it comes to business and life, building connections is a valuable component of success. You help people, people help you, and you never know where connections may lead you or how exactly the dots will end up connecting in the future.
5 things I learned as a 7th grader about connecting
Whether you’ve seen it on your manager’s bookshelf or received it as a gift, you’ve likely come across (or at least heard of) Dale Carnegie’s bestselling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. For me, it has been on my shelf for a long time, and its lessons continue to affect my personal and professional endeavors. Here are five things about connecting that my 7th-grade self found during that summer that are still relevant to me today.
It must be genuine
A significant and long-lasting connection cannot blossom from the insincere ground. A genuine interest in others will spark the kind of connection many of us seek in our personal lives and professional ventures. You can’t fake that. It has to be real. When you genuinely are interested in others, they show interest in you. Authenticity and transparency are critical ingredients to a relationship that is genuine at the core and feels mutually beneficial and worthwhile.
Let them talk
Everyone loves to talk, so let them. I understand the extrovert/introvert debate, but when you dig deep enough and let people feel comfortable, you might be surprised at who is willing to share their stories. Ask questions to discover and learn, and give them time to answer. Don’t assume that they’re done speaking, and don’t jump in at first, umm, that comes out of their mouths. If you do all the talking, you’ll look at a one-sided connection – a weak connection that lacks the foundation to build a strong relationship.
Admit when you’re wrong
When you are wrong, own it, and admit it quickly. It can be difficult to be wrong, but you can gain credibility if you suck it up and admit you are wrong in the right way. Like anything, if you practice gracefully admitting when you’ve made a mistake, it won’t be as difficult to admit it the next time. Go beyond words and fix the problem if you have the resources to repair what went wrong. You will receive more respect as you build trust, making it easier for others to open up and welcome a deeper connection.
Instead of telling or instructing people to do something, turn it into a question. This is especially impactful if you hold a managerial role or find yourself in a position of authority. “What do you think about trying this…?” is much easier to hear than “Do this…,” and I find it easier to say, too. Whether you’re participating in a brainstorming session, running a meeting, or having a one-on-one conversation, coming from a place of curiosity is more meaningful to connect than simply stating what needs to be done.
Dale Carnegie devoted an entire chapter to smiling, and rightfully so. Smiling is a universal means of communicating and impacts your words more than you might think. Body language is 93% of communication, and although gestures and nonverbal cues don’t deliver 93% of your message, they influence how it is received. Something as small as a smile can make a big difference, whether you’re trying to brighten someone’s day, break down barriers, or build a connection with someone new.
Isn’t it interesting how much of an impact one book or one memory from childhood can have on your life? For me, drawing from the past is essential to make sense of the future. I’ve learned that bonding or connecting with another person at an elevated and lasting level is an art. It doesn’t happen overnight and requires ongoing and consistent efforts that, when done with courage and authenticity, can truly transform your personal and professional growth. We are born to connect with others, and how our connections are developed and preserved is up to us. Time and energy invested in connecting are not wasted. Although you may not understand the power of every connection at its present, a moment of success will come when you look back and all the dots come together.