I have been conducting leadership training sessions for about two decades as a Schuitema consultant. I have found that the degree to which I can establish a connection with the participants is the degree to which they engage. Furthermore, the discussions lead to profound learning and transformative experiences. This is without exception.

Establishing a Connection

I have learned that two factors are critical for establishing a connection: unconditional respect for the other and letting yourself be seen. Here, I would like to delve into the latter. While I was looking for ways to make a connection with the participants of my training programs, I knew from my exposure to the Sufi tradition that Sufis never ridiculed others, they always ridiculed themselves to explain things. So, if I were to make a connection, it was fundamental to open myself and let people in. Only then, they would open up and a one can make a connection at the human level. This was not easy. I had to accept my vulnerabilities, fear of them judging me and not being good enough. However, my intuition was very strong, telling me that if I wanted to be authentic, there was no other choice.

The fight went on for a while but in the end my intuition won. And believe me that it transformed the programs. A simple question, ‘where are you at?’ led to examining our internal dialogue, our baggage: the resentments and the fears, that we carry into every situation. In order to explain the concepts, I used my own vulnerabilities as examples. This encouraged participant to share theirs. Thus, creating a safe environment based on mutual respect and trust. I sometime wonder why the participants don’t beat me up for raising very sensitive and controversial issues.

The result of vulnerability

Subsequently, I have used these insights to help leaders develop connection with their teams, peers among themselves and individuals in their personal relationships. A key to making connection is to share your life story whole heartedly. We feel comfortable with people we know because for millennia we have lived in small groups, villages and neighborhoods where everyone knows everybody. When you share your life story whole heartedly and let people see you as a fellow human being with imperfections, continuous struggles and a combination of successes and failures, they relate with you. They see themselves in you. It is this common ground that provides the foundation for building the connection.

As a corporate manager I was discouraged to develop personal connection at work. They were considered against professionalism. Good personal relations were thought to be a barrier to holding people accountable, resulting in poor performance. Rather than addressing the risk, they threw the baby out with the bathwater. They forgot that connection is what makes us human, that is why we are here. It is connection that gives purpose and meaning to our lives. What are we without our ability to connect?

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