Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Cultivating Common Ground

In the book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”, John Maxwell has five chapters devoted to principles of connecting, and five chapters devoted to practices of connecting.   I have spent five weeks on the first five chapters covering those principles, and today I start on the second part of the book, with the practices. The first practice of connecting is in the sixth chapter, and it is “Connectors Connect on Common Ground”.

In the last post, I listed four traits that end up being hindrances to building common ground with others, namely:

  • Assumption (“I Already Know What Others Know, Feel, and Want”)
  • Arrogance (“I Don’t Need to Know What Others Know, Feel, or Want”)
  • Indifference (“I Don’t Care to Know What Others Know, Feel, or Want”)
  • Control (“I Don’t Want Others to Know What I Know, Feel, or Want”)

After that material on what NOT to do, John Maxwell gives a list of positive ways to cultivate common ground.

1.  Availability–“I Will Choose to Spend Time With Others”

Availability requires time, of course, but it also requires intentionality.   You have to plan in time to be available to others.     If you have blocks of time to yourself, make sure that you let people know when your “office hours” are so that when they contact you during those hours, they can rest assured that you ARE available.    The rule is, you don’t have to give your team members 100% of your time, but when you give your time, you should be 100% there for them.

2.  Listening–“I Will Listern My Way to Common Ground”

Listening requires letting go of your own internal dialogue and your own preconceptions, so that the words people are telling you fall on fresh ears, not deaf ones.    If you are willing to listen to others and figure out how to fulfill their needs, you’re on your way to reaching common ground.

3.  Questions–“I Will Be Interested Enough in Others to Ask Questions”

The key to asking questions is having a sense of curiosity–about various topics, but also about people and what makes them tick, what motivates them.   Ron Puryear invented the acronym FORM, which stands for the standard questions you should ask team members to get to know them better:

  • F:   Family
  • O:   Occupation
  • R:   Recreation
  • M:  Message

4.  Thoughtfulness–“I Will Think of Others And Look for Ways to Thank Them”

If you have a team member who is not performing the task he or she has been assigned within the deadline provided, you should approach that person and not berate them, but befriend them.    Do they have everything they need in order to get the job done?    If they don’t have the time to get it done, is there something that is less urgent that can be delegated to someone else so that the team member can concentrate on the higher priority task.   If you are a person who helps them obtain solutions, rather than somebody whose chief preoccupation is assigning blame, then they will be more willing to come to you when they are having problems rather than you have to find out by going to them.

5.  Openness–“I Will Let People Into My Life”

Sometimes people shut themselves off from others, whether it is because they are introverts and sense that they need some alone time to recharge their batteries, or because they don’t want or they even fear people getting closer to them.   Usually this is because they are afraid of being rejected if people got to know the “real” person.

The problem with this is that the wall that people sometimes build to keep others out takes a certain amount of psychic energy to construct.    If you can find a way to tear down your inner walls, you will not only find yourself better able to connect with others, but you will be surprised how much you will WANT to do so, because the energy you used to use constructing and maintaining those walls can now be used more constructively in engaging other people.

6.  Likeability–“I Will Care About People”

People will like you if you genuinely like THEM, which doesn’t mean you have to BE like them.    I have friends who have different political beliefs or religious beliefs than I do, but because they do not take themselves too seriously, we can find a conversational “demilitarized zone” in which we can share the things we DO have in common, whether it be the kind of books we read, or the historical figures we admire.     So you don’t have to be all things to all people, you just have to genuine like all people for being themselves.

7.  Humility–“I Will Think of Myself Less So I Can Think of Others More”

Humility does not mean denying your strengths, and just admitting your weaknesses.    You can acknowledge your strengths, but as long as you recognize that these strengths are gifts, then you can use them on behalf of a higher purpose.

There’s an observation I invented regarding the Toastmasters organization:   there are three stages of being a Toastmaster.

  • In the first stage, you’re afraid to get on stage.
  • In the second stage, you’re afraid to get off stage.
  • In the third stage, you know when it is time to get on, and when it is time to get off stage.

In the first stage, you are nervous and unsure of yourself, and this is why many people don’t connect with the audience at first, because they’re so busy worrying about “hey, am I doing this right?”

Well, then you graduate to the next stage, and when people start giving you compliments on how well you speak, you let it go to your head, like the Little Jack Horner of nursery rhyme fame:

“Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said ‘What a good boy am I!’

Well, you can be impressed with what a good boy (or girl) you are, but this is also an eg0centric stage, because you are no longer afraid of speaking, you want to speak, but FOR THE WRONG REASON, to show everybody how clever you are.    What’s lost are two things:   your message and the audience.

You need to graduate to the third stage, so you can get on stage when it is your to deliver your message, but then you get off stage at the appropriate time and let others give you feedback, or on a different occasion, you listen to the speeches of others with rapt attention.

8.  Adaptability–“I Will Move From My World to Theirs”

If you are aware of a gap between you and the people with whom you are trying to connect, you must try to move to their world mentally, if not physically.    When I studied Japanese at the University of Illinois as part of graduate studies program in Asian Studies, I met a Japanese guy named Atsuki Tofukuji, and we became good friends because he was working at a manufacturing company, and I was fascinated by manufacturing because of my undergraduate engineering background.    We found we shared a lot of interests in common, including a love of science fiction.

When I graduated, unbeknownst to me, he had conferred with his home company in Japan and had asked if there was a position for someone like me who was studying technical translation to be of use to a Japanese manufacturer like the one I worked for.    It turned out there were looking for exactly that type of person, and with his introduction, I got an interview, which I aced and then it dawned on me that this job was going to be in Japan, a country I had been studying about for the previous three years.   It was literally a dream come true.

Many Americans who live in Japan like to live in neighborhoods with other Americans, lest they become too homesick.   I wanted to live in a traditional Japanese neighborhood where I was the only American.   This would force me to not only speak Japanese, but learn about Japanese customs, etc.     I learned a lot in the five years I worked there.    Not only did I, of course, become fluent in Japanese to the point that I could read and write it as well as speak it, I became valuable to the company after I moved back to the United States, because I understood perfectly both the American business world and the Japanese business world.    My role model was my boss Mr. Hase, who was perfectly at ease in both worlds as well, but after having gone the other direction and having moved to the United States and lived there for five years.

The amazing thing is that, when I went to Japan, I had quite a bit of “culture shock”, but I also had quite a bit of “reverse culture shock” when I came back to the U.S. after living in Japan for five years.    My father would relate how when I talked to my boss on the phone, I would bow my head instinctively at the end of a sentence, especially if I was agreeing to a request.    When he told me about it with a bemused look on his face, I told him I honestly didn’t realize that I was doing it.    When I sat in the apartment, I sat on the floor and not in the chair because that’s what I did when I was in Japan.   It took me a while to adjust, but here’s the benefit of having lived in both worlds:   you not only appreciate the world of the other more because you have lived there as much as an insider as you possible could, but you also appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of your own world even more for seeing it again as if for the first time.

In the next post, I will discuss four questions you should ask yourself in order to become a better connector.


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