The art of connecting with people

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How well do you connect with others? How deep can you take the initial connection and develop a deeper relationship?

“Connect” as defined by The New Oxford Dictionary on my MacBook Pro, is

* To bring together or into contact so that a real or notional link is established
* join together so as to provide access and communication
* associate or relate in some respect
* (of a thing) provide or have a link or relationship with (someone or something)
* form a relationship or feel an affinity

Thanks to technological advances and modern media our contemporary society is more connected than ever before.  Yet, hardly any of us need to be told that we are less socially engaged than ever before.  It seems that to the degree of our connections through social media to the opposite degree are our interpersonal and intimate relationships.  Indeed, people are connecting more but relating less.

It also appears that many are starved for relationships but have apparently not learned the art of connecting well and in healthy ways.  Even this post on the art of connection can easily be irrelevant if it is merely an informational piece that is not applied.

In fact, an individual can be a skilled and polished communicator and a relatively good listener yet never really connect with people.  Extroverts and those who thrive on being with people seem more adept at connecting but may never engage and relate to others in healthy ways.

Good leaders connect with people.  Great leaders do so effectively.  Leaders influence others. Good leaders influence others for the good of the individual and/or the community.  John Maxwell in his Becoming a Person of Influence wrote, “Connection is …absolutely critical if you want to influence people in a positive way.  When you navigate for others, you come alongside them and travel their road for a while, helping them handle some of the obstacles and difficulties in their life.  Yet when you connect with them, you are asking them to come alongside you and travel your road for your and their mutual benefit.”

There is a difference between the act of connecting and the art of connecting.  On the one hand, the act of connecting is merely relating at a basic, casual or surface level.  Social media and technology have made this skill quite easy.  On the other hand, the art of connecting is taking the relationship to deeper layers in ways that are valuable and effective for positive influence.  This is how many can experience new emotions and level of connection with people.

The act of connection requires listening and good verbal skills but the art of connection also requires respect, sharing similar interests, experiences and values, having a sincere interest in helping people grow and succeed, the ability to empathize.  In other words, positive, healthy and effective connections are other-focused that is not only for your interest but also in their best interest.  The art of interpersonal connection does this.


So, what are some ways to effectively connect with people?

Here are six suggested ways to take connecting from an act to an art that makes for better, more effective relationships:

1. See people as having value. After all, they are made in the image of God.

  • Have a healthy interest in others.  Selfish people may be able to connect but they rarely make solid connections.  Proud people at times will connect with others, though it tends to be shallow and short-lived.  Humble, other-focused people genuinely relate and make a significant connection with others.
  • Recognize and respect differences in people’s personalities.
  • Treat them with kindness and courtesy.  Remember Christ’s “golden rule” (Luke 6:31).
  • Give them a sense that they are really important.  They may not be important to you but they matter to God!  Making one feel important is more powerful as a motivator than money, promotion, working conditions, or almost anything else.

2. Take the initiative to better know them and to consider how you might help them.


  • Greet them warmly.
  • Meet them sincerely.
  • Consider them potentially.

At one point, the vast majority of friends you have were unknown strangers.  For a variety of reasons you and those strangers became friends.  All strangers are potential friends.  So, seek to get to know others with whom you connect by considering how you might become friends. One helpful tool I use is the acrostic “friend” (see below).  Most people are happy to tell you about themselves, but be aware of those who could feel distressed by your questions. Obviously, you need to be sensitive to body language or verbal cues that could indicate they are too uncomfortable with your inquiry. In any case, you can come up with additional questions or thoughts, but these are useful for starters:

Family –

Discover something about the person and his or her family. Does s/he come from a small or large family? Single or married?  Does s/he live with family?  Etc.

Recreation –

What hobbies does s/he enjoy? What kinds of things does s/he like to do for fun or to express a talent?

Interests –

What kinds of interests does this person have: animals, reading, philosophy, music, social cause, and so forth?

Education –

Where did s/he attend elementary or high school? Has s/he continued education beyond that? Would s/he like to get an advanced degree? Is s/he pursuing courses or seminars to enhance her or his growth?

Needs –

Did sh/e recently move into the area? Need any help getting settled or finding things? Looking for a new church? Financially challenged? Is there anything that I or we can reasonably do to help?
As Christians, we have the greatest answer to the deepest and most serious need of all!

Dinner or dessert –

At this point, you may wish to take your connection to the next level. You could simply ask something like, “How would you like to get together for coffee?” Perhaps even be bolder and say, “We’d like to have you over for dessert, would you be interested?”

3. Find common interests or share common experiences.

4. Communicate from the heart.

Don’t center the introduction or conversation on your own life. Allow the other person to get to know you, but make it a higher priority to find out about their lives. For some people, this will be quite easy as they if they are more outgoing, needy, or even self-absorbed. For others, trying to draw them out in order to engage them in a caring way might be met with skepticism or distrust, or perhaps they do not know how to talk about themselves without being too self-conscious.

One way to communicate with heart this is to actually say, “Tell me, what’s your story?” Then listen with attentiveness and empathy. Be honest and authentic in the dialog, and let them do most of the talking.

5. Spend time with them in order to connect at a deeper level.

Spending time by sharing something in common helps build relationships. Certainly, there are many ways to spend time together. However, three effective ways to get to know someone better are eating a meal together, having fun together, and working on a common project together.

6. Sustain an on-going connection through genuine care:

a. Encourage – build them up, help to increase their confidence, and give them hope for the future.

b. Appreciate – show gratitude for their specific contributions.

c. Affirm – show and tell them you admire their personal gifts, talents, and strengths.

d. Recognize – express to others their accomplishments. Brag about them in a way that is truthful and elevates them in the eyes of others.

e. Confront – with permission, address his or her failures, mistakes, or sins with gentleness, truth, and love so that s/he may change, grow and improve.

Connecting with people has never been easier than it is today. However, connecting with people at a deeper relational level has, for many, become an unknown skill or a lost art. This article provides you with six suggested ways to take connecting from an act to an art that makes for better, more effective relationships.  Practice one or more of these things each day and watch how you will begin to develop better relationships and more friends.

If you need any help with this just let me know.


Dr. Don

How Relationships Make You What Your Are

What makes you what you are?

In the past several decades, various people and institutions in the fields of biology, psychology, sociology, the science of the brain, and the like, have obtained greater insight into how we become who we are.  The current research has revealed that roughly fifty percent of who and what we are comes from the genes we inherit from both sides of our biological parents.  The other fifty percent of our composition comes from our experiences and relationships.

It began with your mother or primary caregiver.  You are who you are in large measure because of the relationships you have had up until now, and you will become what you will be because of your current and future relationships.  The connections and interactions you have with others will be highly influential in your ever-changing life, far more so than you doing anything “alone” for your personal self-development!

Two main reasons for this are that you are created for relationships and you are formed by relationships.

Here are three crucial things to know about relationships:

1. You are Created for Them

Yep, that’s right!  You and I are made for relationships.

Daniel J. Siegel in his fascinating book, Mindsight, puts it clearly,

We come into the world wired to make connections with one another, and the subsequent neural shaping of our brain, the very foundation of our sense of self, is built upon these intimate exchanges between the infant and her caregivers. In the early years this interpersonal regulation is essential for survival but throughout our lives, we continue to need such connections for a sense of vitality and well-being (Mindsight , Kindle location 383).

Daniel Goleman in The Brain and Emotional Intelligence reveals that “The social brain includes a multitude of circuitry, all designed to attune to and interact with another person’s brain” (Kindle location 639).

He goes on to explain how certain nerve cells found all over our brains, called “mirror neurons,” help us to “wirelessly connect” with other people. Goleman says these mirror neurons “activate in us exactly what we see in the other person: their emotions, their movements, and even their intentions” (Kindle location 650).

2. You Are Made By Them

You and I are literally formed by the relationships we have.

Daniel Goleman makes this case in his writings, particularly in Social Intelligence.  He demonstrates that “To a surprising extent, then, our relationships mold not just our experience but our biology” (Kindle location 79).

What is amazing is that relationships are an integral part of how your brain and body are fashioned. Every single relationship you have had so far has played a part in how you have been formed, even down to the nerve and cellular level!

Quoting Siegel again,

It wasn’t until years later that I would come upon the research demonstrating how crucial it is to our development to have at least some relationships that are attuned, in which we feel we are held within another person’s internal world, in their head and in their heart—relationships that help us thrive and give us resilience.  And only later still did I learn how the neural networks around the heart and throughout the body are intimately interwoven with the resonance circuits in the brain—so that when we 'feel felt' by another it also helps us to develop the internal strength of self-regulation, to become focused, thoughtful, and resourceful.  Being close to someone early in our lives gives us the clarity to know how we feel, and the ability to feel close to others.  Long before researchers began to unravel these neural mechanisms, poets and children like Rebecca knew that the heart is indeed a wise source of knowing (Mindsight; Kindle location 2999).

Goleman agrees, “But the exquisite social responsiveness of the brain demands that we realize that not just our own emotions but our very biology is being driven and molded, for better or for worse, by others—and in turn, that we take responsibility for how we affect the people in our lives” (Social Intelligence, Kindle location 5696).

This is why it is so crucial to have healthy, intimate relational interaction between a child and a loving parent in her first three years of life. Frequent nurturing and caring engagement between the primary caregiver(s) and the child significantly impacts the child’s biology, brain formation, intelligence quotient, the ability to form healthy bonds in relationships, the development of emotional maturity, social intelligence, and set the young one on a path toward an overall healthy lifestyle (all things positively considered).

So, what you are is in large part due to the relationships you have had thus far in life.

The final takeaway idea is:

3. You Are Nothing Without Them

The picture often used in science fiction movies of humans being manufactured from embryonic cells into fully functioning adults is quite mythical.  Aliens or mad scientists might be able to produce physical bodies, but without both experience and interactive relationships, the bodies would not have acquired the necessary cellular and neurological connections needed to make them truly human.  That is because experiences and relationships shape and weave the essential materials into what makes us human.

In other words, you and others have a symbiotic relationship.  You need others and others need you.  Without interaction with others, you would not be fully you!


Can You Relate?

Let me know what you think or if you have any questions. 

- Dr. Don


How to embrace suffering as a Christian?

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Is there anything the Bible tells us about how to embrace suffering as a Christian?  There are many places.  Two New Testament passages are helpful in this regard.  Read Philippians 1:27-30 and then compare 1 Peter 4:12-19. 

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’  Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
— 1 Peter 4:12-19

In Philippians 1, Paul’s admonition to live consistent with the standards of Christ’s Gospel reflected the Roman citizen or soldier’s allegiance to Caesar. It was a high calling in life with a loyalty unto death. Though they had the backing of the emperor and the state, there was also an expectation they would suffer for the cause. Being a citizen had its perks and privileges, but also came with a serious price. Soldiers were well aware of that and even expected it. The ordeal of suffering was no surprise to citizens or soldiers because that was the natural consequence of wearing their Lord’s insignia.

As Christians, we have a Kingdom citizenship. We are heavenly aliens who live on earth. Our deep affinity is with our Lord. At the same time, we can expect antagonism from opponents. Our allegiance to the King of all kings reaps incredible rewards but also comes with a very high price.

Peter picks up on this in his first letter. One of the main points of his epistle is that we suffer in Christ and we suffer with Christ. Our Eternal Emperor suffered for natural and spiritual reasons. So too, we will not escape what Jesus went through. In this passage, we are called to embrace the affliction we share with Christ and also have confidence in our commitment to Christ.

How do we embrace this affliction? In four ways:

(1)   Don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:12)  

Going through fire-burning trials and persecution from people of this world is actually quite ordinary.  In fact, it is an indication of our obvious affiliation with Christ. It is something we all share. Now, some Christians take this to the degree that they antagonize others in order to receive angry or hostile responses just to prove they are Christians. Other believers fear the suffering so they do what they can to appease people. We are to do neither.

(2)   Rejoice while suffering (1 Peter 4:13a) 

Isn’t that weird? You mean, enjoy the suffering? Well, nowhere in the Bible are we called to be masochists. Instead, we rejoice because we are gifted with the grace for suffering as we participate in Christ’s sufferings. We rejoice because this kind of suffering indicates we wear his insignia and live out his life.

(3)   Without shame (4:16a)

There is no shame in suffering for the cause of Jesus.

(4)   By glorifying God (4:16b) 

We do this when we radiate the weighted beauty of our Lord through our life and lips.


Another thing we are called to do as Christ’s colonists is to have confidence in our commitment to Christ. Peter’s own experience as one taunted, reviled, slandered, and imprisoned tested his commitment to Jesus many times. Then, he came to understand the prophet Malachi’s message (Mal. 3:1-3, 4:1). This message was a severe threat to the Lord’s enemies while at the same time a great promise to his own people: when God appears in glory, he will bring a refining process. This refining fire will purify his people in order to make them holy and acceptable to God. At the same time, this scathing fire of God’s pure glory will burn up the old world and all his enemies. Our commitment to Jesus serves as a sign of God’s impending judgment (Phil 1:28).  In the end, there is a huge benefit for remaining committed to Christ.

A wrap-up

Since embracing affliction in Christ and remaining committed to Christ will eventually cause rejoicing in the Lord and in our great happiness (1 Pet. 4:13), we can entrust our souls to the faithful Creator as we do good in the world.

Dr. Don

Want to study a bit more on what the Bible says about suffering?  Click on the button below and download your own study notes.  Then, let me know what you think.


One helpful book on the topic is by James MacDonald.  Get your copy today:

When Life Is Hard
By James MacDonald






Bring More Kindness into Your LIfe


Bring More Kindness into Your Life

Here are Three Strategies for Bringing More Kindness into Your Life:

(The original article was posted in Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action by Juliana Breines, September 16, 2015).

Do things to make other people happy

One of the best ways to increase our own happiness is to do things that make other people happy. In countless studies, kindness and generosity have been linked to greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, and better mental and physical health—generous people even live longer.

What’s more, the happiness people derive from giving to others creates a positive feedback loop: The positive feelings inspire further generosity—which, in turn, fuels greater happiness. And research suggests that kindness is truly contagious: Those who witness and benefit from others’ acts of kindness are more likely to be kind themselves; a single act of kindness spreads through social networks by three degrees of separation, from person to person to person to person.

But just because we have the capacity for kindness, and reap real benefits from it, doesn’t mean that we always act with kindness. We may be too busy, distracted, or wrapped up in our own concerns to pay close attention to others’ needs or actively seek out opportunities to help. Or we’re just out of practice: Researchers have argued that kindness is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened through repeated use.

How do we strengthen kindness? Researchers have identified a number of effective exercises, and many of them are collected on the Greater Good Science Center’s new website, Greater Good in Action (GGIA), which features the top research-based activities for fostering happiness, kindness, connection, and resilience.


Three Broad Categories of Kindness Practices

Here I highlight GGIA’s 10 core kindness practices, grouped into three broad categories:

1. How to Cultivate Feelings of Kindness

Kind behavior comes more naturally when we’re feeling a sense of compassion and connection with others. This first set of practices focuses on cultivating these feelings.

The Feeling Connected practice involves thinking about a time when you felt a strong connection to another person—through a meaningful conversation, say, or by experiencing a great loss or success or historic event together—and describing that experience in writing. A 2011 study led by researcher Louisa Pavey in the United Kingdom found that participants who completed this exercise reported increases in feelings of concern for others and stronger intentions to carry out a number of generous acts over the next six weeks, such as giving money to charity and helping a stranger in need.

How does this practice increase kindness? Research suggests that feeling connected to others satisfies a fundamental psychological need to belong; when this need is unmet, people are more likely to focus on their own needs rather than caring for others.

Showing empathy and kindness

Similar to Feeling Connected is the Feeling Supported practice, which involves thinking about the qualities of the people you turn to when you’re distressed, then recalling a time when you were comforted by one of them. A 2005 study led by Mario Mikulincer, dean of the school of psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, found that people who completed this writing exercise, compared with those who wrote more generically about a colleague or acquaintance, subsequently reported greater compassion and willingness to help a person in distress. This simple practice is powerful because it increases “attachment security,” a state that involves feelings of trust and comfort and is especially helpful when we’re feeling threatened or insecure. It can also remind us of the kinds of qualities we want to embody when kindly supporting others.

Another excellent way to tap into feelings of compassion and concern for others is to take an Awe Walk, which involves going for a stroll somewhere that seems vast and perspective-shifting and makes us feel connected to something greater than ourselves. In a 2015 study led by Paul Piff, then a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, some participants stood in a grove of towering eucalyptus trees and gazed up for just one minute; other participants looked away from the trees, at a building. The tree gazers were subsequently more likely to help someone in need and less likely to feel that they were superior to others.

Finally, you can try a Compassion Meditation. This simple—though not necessarily easy—technique involves paying attention to your breathing as you extend feelings of goodwill toward a loved one, yourself, a neutral person, and even an enemy. Results of a 2013 study led by Helen Weng, then at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, showed that participants who performed the compassion meditation for two weeks demonstrated more generous behavior, donating more money to a victim of unfair treatment, and they also showed greater activity in brain regions associated with understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions in response to pictures of suffering. (You can find audio of a guided compassion meditation on the GGIA website, along with the script for this meditation.)


2. How to Boost the Happiness We Get from Kindness

Another way to increase the amount of kindness we perform over the long terms sounds simple: make a concerted effort to perform more kind and generous acts in the short term.

Intentionally practicing kindness in our everyday lives, even on days when we’re not in a particularly generous mood, can go a long way toward turning kindness into a habit. That’s largely because of the way kindness breeds happiness: The good feelings serve to reinforce our kind acts and make us more likely to want to perform them in the future.

Practicing Random Acts of Kindness is a good place to start. This practice involves performing five acts of kindness in one day and then writing about the experience. They can be anything from bringing a meal to a sick friend to giving up your seat on the bus to donating blood to buying a coffee for the person in line behind you at a cafe. For ideas, consider acts of kindness that you’ve witnessed or received in the past, and check out this Buzzfeed list of 101 suggestions. Random acts of kindness not only lift our spirits in the moment; they also have the potential to alter the way we feel about ourselves and increase healthy forms of self-esteem.

Research suggests that not all acts of kindness are created equal, however. Many factors can influence whether and how these acts bring us psychological benefits. The Making Giving Feel Good practice outlines three strategies that can maximize the positive effects of generosity.

The first strategy is to make giving a choice. Research suggests that when we feel obligated to give—such as when we feel cornered by an aggressive request—we are less likely to enjoy it. It’s important to give yourself the option to say no, and to give others the same option when requesting help. The second strategy is to make a connection with the recipient of your kindness—for example by taking a colleague out to lunch rather than just giving a gift certificate. The third strategy is to take the initiative to learn about the impact of your generosity, which can elicit contagious feelings of joy. For example, see this video of a bone marrow donor meeting the little girl whose life he saved.


3. How to Inspire Kindness in Others

It’s important to find ways to boost your own kindness. But arguably the greatest good we can do in the world comes from finding ways to increase kindness in others. That’s what the next set of practices are designed to do. On GGIA, we provide three research-based strategies for educators, parents, and leaders of all kinds to help others overcome barriers to kindness and generosity.

The first is to create Reminders of Connectednessin a home, office, or classroom. These reminders can be something as simple as a quote evoking shared goals, words like “community,” or a picture conveying warmth or friendships.

The second involves Putting a Human Face on Suffering: Being able to identify distinct, specific victims of a problem—and learning about their personal stories—can make that problem more vivid, strike an emotional chord, and thus motivate people to help.

 The third, Shared Identity, involves forging a sense of common humanity across group boundaries. Reminding people to see the basic humanity that they share with those who might seem different from them can help overcome fear and distrust and promote cooperation. Even small similarities, like appreciating sports, can foster a greater sense of kinship. (An overview of these three strategies is also provided in the Eliciting Altruism practice.)

Finally, the practice for  Encouraging Kindness in Kids offers four specific techniques to bring out children’s natural propensity for kindness and generosity. These techniques include avoiding external rewards for kind behavior, so that kids get to experience the feeling that kindness is its own reward, praising kids’ character instead of their behavior so they come to see kindness as an essential part of who they are, and modeling kindness in your own behavior, since actions tend to speak louder than words when it comes to nurturing generosity.


Becoming a kinder person—and nurturing kindness in your children and students—isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes practice to turn your best intentions into concrete actions. We hope the kindness exercises on Greater Good in Action provide an effective way to start building that habit today.

Juliana Breines, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University.

6 Steps To Making Another Person Feel "Felt"

  Ways to show empathy.

Ways to show empathy.

“I feel ya!” used to be a more common expression than it is today.  It means, “I understand what you are saying and I feel what you are feeling.”  It’s an aspect of empathy.  Dr. Daniel Goleman in The Brain and Emotional Intelligence, explains it as, “The core skill in social awareness is empathy – sensing what others are thinking and feeling, without them telling us in words.”  To “feel felt” is an important feature of empathy. Along with cognitive empathy (understanding the other’s perspective) and empathic concern (I am aware of your need and I’m ready to help you), feeling felt is “the basis for rapport and relational chemistry” (Goleman, Kindle location 754).

The core skill in social awareness is empathy – sensing what others are thinking and feeling, without them telling us in words.
— Dr. Daniel Goleman

There are a host of reasons for developing this skill.  Benefits include becoming more emotionally and socially mature, increasing your likability, being more effective in relating and dealing with others in all social spheres, and much more.

As with any life skills you need to understand and practice it. In Just Listen, Mark Goulston’s helpful book, we find six steps to making another person feel “felt.”  As he says, it’s rather simple to do.  All it takes is intentional practice.  The following portion is excerpted from his book (Kindle locations 964-1013):


Attach an emotion to what you think the other person is feeling, such as “frustrated,” “angry,” or “afraid.”


Say, “I’m trying to get a sense of what you’re feeling and I think it’s ________. . .” and fill in an emotion. “Is that correct? If it’s not, then what are you feeling?”  Wait for the person to agree or correct you.


Then say, “How frustrated (angry, upset, etc.) are you?”  Give the person time to respond.  Be prepared, at least initially, for a torrent of emotions—especially if the person you’re talking with is holding years of pent-up frustration, anger, or fear inside.  This is not the time to fight back or air your own grievances.


Next, say, “And the reason you’re so frustrated (angry, upset, etc.) is because. . . ?” Again, let the person vent.


Then say, “Tell me—what needs to happen for that feeling to feel better?”


Next, ask “What part can I play in making that happen? What part can you play in making that happen?”

Wrap up

Making someone “feel felt” simply means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.  When you succeed, you can change the dynamics of a relationship in a heartbeat.  At that instant, instead of trying to get the better of each other, you “get” each other and that breakthrough can lead to cooperation, collaboration, and effective communication.


Helpful stuff! Try it out and then in the comment section why not tell me how you feel about it?

~Dr. Don