Some time ago, as I was preparing a keynote and related breakout sessions for an upcoming conference, I realized I had overlooked an important area of consideration. Perhaps you already know that I speak about people skills – People Connectors. So, I talk a lot about the attitudes and habits that are required to form and maintain personal and professional relationships. We seem to expect more from our electronic devices than we do from each other. So, I remind us of common-sense connectors.

However, I had been overlooking something in my approach. I had forgotten that nothing happens in a vacuum and that there’s always a context. It’s what we call life. 

We all know that it can be challenging to consistently use people skills even when, as we say, life is good. However, I suddenly realized that there is an even greater challenge. It’s in the use of these skills when we’re dealing with issues that are coming at us at the speed of life. Put another way, oftentimes the greater need at the moment is not that we connect with others. It’s that, while dealing with difficult day-to-day issues and people, we do not disconnect. 

These speed-of-life issues might include not feeling well, anxiety, fatigue, fear, worry, frustration and a myriad of other life challenges. Let’s look at three of the “myriads” where we need to be careful not to disconnect in our communication, whether virtually or six feet apart.

1.     Discouragement. It’s not breaking news to say that life is filled with ups and downs. When we forget this, though, we are easily discouraged by the “downs.” During these times, it’s easy for us to totally withdraw (different from social-distancing) from others. Ironically, in doing so, we also withdraw from the encouragement that people can provide. Also, as one focuses less on others and more on self, the imagination gets more attention. So, it goes to work to create images in the mind that are bigger, uglier and hairier than they really are. Frustration over the “unsolvable” sets in, discouragement gets worse, our words get harsh and relationships suffer. What’s my point? When we’re discouraged, solid connections become even more important. Rather than pushing others away, at these times it’s important that we draw them closer (by whatever means available) and treat them kindly. And, when the issue is solved or goes away, we’ll be thankful that our connections didn’t.                 

2.     Criticism. Who has never been criticized? We all have been and will be again. Many years ago, after a presentation, an attendee angrily told me, “I disagree with everything you said 100%!” I thought at the time, and still think, that was an excessive amount of disagreement. I can laugh now. Then, it was not so funny. I’ve since learned that criticism is simply a poorly packaged form of feedback. So, if I control my emotions, swallow the defensive words that a typical disconnector might use and look for what is beneficial in the criticism, I have an opportunity to grow and to stay connected. Elbert Hubbard, the American author and philosopher, is credited with having said: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” We can sometimes take comfort in knowing that what we are doing is generally much better than what the critic is not doing. 

3.     Disagreement. Though criticism involves disagreement, disagreement may simply be in the form of a differing point of view or idea. But, it’s contrary to our idea, right? And our ideas are our “children.” They’re all precious to us. We’ll fight for them. But, consider this. Other people’s ideas and points of view are their children. And, people never forget what we do to their children! The good news is that they also never forget what we do for them. So, if we want to stay connected during disagreements and perhaps learn something in the process, we must always remember to show respect for other people’s children. While disagreeing, our feelings for our own children must be curtailed. Or, put another way, in disagreement ego is the enemy. Maturity is our friend.       

The three challenging circumstances we just noticed have a couple of things in common. First, they are potential disconnectors. Also, each of them is often used as an in-our-heads excuse for doing or saying that which ultimately disconnects us from others. 

Basketball star, Jerry West said, “You can’t get much done in life if you only work on days when you feel good.” Put another way, we have our connector tip: 

CONNECTOR TIP: Average people connect only on up days. Leaders have more up days by connecting regardless.