Do We Have a Crisis of Connection?

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I was lucky to land a couple of passes to the movie, Ali’s Wedding, recently – it is a fun and moving love story set in Australia against the backdrop of the Iraqi immigrant community. While I really enjoyed the movie, this is about what happened before and after it. For me, that is even more significant than the message in the movie (btw, do watch it if you can).

I got the movie passes not because I am ‘well-connected", but because I share a sense of mutual affection and connectedness with a volunteering organisation who thought this was a great way to tell me they valued what I do. So, off I went with my husband to make good use of them, and as we entered the multiplex and started walking towards where all the screens were, we met the usher who was checking tickets. He was a young, well-dressed and cheerful man, he looked up at us and greeted us warmly, smiled brightly, wished us a great night and hoped we enjoy our movie. It was one of those moments when you meet an employee who loves to do what they do, not because they are paid to do it, but because they want to.

That brief exchange did something for me – it made me feel included as his customer. I felt compelled to stop on way out and tell him that we did have a great night and enjoyed the movie just as he had wished for us. His face lit up, he looked delighted and mildly surprised, even. For me, this was a social experiment of sorts.

It doesn’t matter if the person is a stranger and we don’t know their name, when we reciprocate connection, we feel connected and included. Inclusion doesn't depend on familiarity & connection doesn't take time.

The fact that this exchange stood out for me also tells me that people sincerely meaning what they say is not as common as we might think. More people feel disconnected, lonely, misunderstood and excluded in our world than any other time in history, perhaps.

A reflection of that reality is that close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Many more attempt suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally. We call that age-group our future.

All is not well with our world, even if the person sitting next to us is keeping it together for a few hours, and doesn’t let on if they need help or are craving for a real conversation with a real person. A conversation that tells them they are accepted the way they are, they are valued and that their life matters to us.

It might help us to know that connection is not a function of time or money it’s a function of intention. It barely took a few seconds to have the exchange I described above with the usher at the multiplex. I hope our chat made him feel meaningful in his work and as a professional, and that what he did made a difference to me. Connection is not time consuming, relationships take time though, and all good relationships are built on the solid foundation of moments invested in connecting and reciprocating connection. That takes intention and over time, we form a great relationship - one person at a time.

So, let's examine how we choose to spread the message of inclusion and diversity today across organisations. We continue to address large numbers of people at one time, urging them to be inclusive. We do this because we've built a big employee base, we desire scale, we want to speak to an unimaginable number of people scattered around the globe, we want efficiency, we want to economise and save time, so we gather people in a room and over video conferences, and tell them why respecting diversity and being inclusive is important, that we need their cooperation and action in fulfilling the organisation’s mission in being a diverse organisation that respects individuals. You see how this is a disconnect?

To genuinely include someone and begin to connect with them is a one-on-one action that inspires others to come forward and be themselves. We can inspire a group of people or even a large crowd, but we connect one-on-one. We didn’t form our best friendships in groups, we met people who became our best friends in a group, perhaps, but our relationship with them grew between the two of us. The most productive leader-team member relationships were built one-on-one.

Let's reverse the order, so we reflect the process of human connection correctly. It's inclusion first and then diversity, not the other way round.

We don’t persuade individuals to take individual action through talking to them as a mass of people whose names we can’t tell if anyone put us on the spot. Individual change takes intentional individual action. That doesn’t happen through mandatory and impersonal training programs. That happens through great leadership of individuals.

We have a growing crisis of connection - a crisis where an unprecedented number of people don't feel they belong, they are needed or valued. Test it yourself. Feel the organisational climate of where you work, observe the amount of tolerance people have for a differing points of view or opinions. Watch how the more contentious the topic, the more telling if inclusion has succeeded at your workplace or not. You got your organisational climate survey results right there in front of you.

As leaders, and those responsible for ourselves and our teams, let’s help our people be accountable for their behaviour by talking about issues that are divisive. Sweeping contentious topics under the rug or doing an unconscious bias training is not helpful anymore, there is too much that divides us. Forces beyond our control fuel the narrative that goes against all tenets of inclusion and diversity. So what can bring us together? The narrative might not be in our control, but the conversation is. Let’s begin with a chat, let’s talk about how we feel about our differences. Not how the whole organisation and the country feels about it, how do we feel about it as a team, as a group of people who spend a better part of our days with each other and work towards a goal larger than any of us. Let’s talk about it, let’s not stay silent in the hope that our divisiveness will correct itself, it won’t. Silence rarely does that. Unless we do this, diversity won't stick and won't matter in the long-run.

Let me know what you think, would love to hear back and hear your experiences.

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Connectedness Is a Brave Choice, and Why We Must Risk It


I've been part of more than a few farewells recently. There have been more endings than beginnings this month. I can only hope that the Phoenix will rise from its ashes and the rest of the year will bring new life and refreshed beginnings.

There's been heartache too. About letting go and being let go, of watching distance creep into spaces that were full of closeness and laughs just a short while back. Yet, let go I must. As we all must when the time comes to say bye to colleagues, familiar settings and friendly people who had your back, and move on to what calls us next.

It must take courage then to let connectedness take hold and include new people, knowing that nothing lasts forever, and if there is a beginning there must be an end, too. It's a brave choice to allow ourselves the risk of heartache and a few tears. To know we may soon be staring into the void that opens up as those we care about move away or we move away from them.

Imagine getting on with work, but without the person you were having coffee with just this morning, or moving on ourselves to find a stranger sitting next to us. It's a brave choice to knowingly walk into sadness and pay a price we knew was coming. Yet we connect, we revel in our familiarity and make memories for a lifetime.

Connectedness is not for the fainthearted then.

It is for those who have the courage of knowing what the fear of loss must feel like. Courage that stems from the certainty of knowing that life and relationships are transient. That we exist in that space between feeling close and drifting apart. In that temporariness is a life well lived.

Connectedness must take courage knowing that we have something to lose before we have something to gain, that there is a risk before there is a reward. So we must make the most of it while we have the opportunity to share moments of doubt, panic, chaos and triumph with that person. To grow and learn in ways that is quite impossible to do if we chose to be insular.

Which is why, every time we meet someone who tries hard not to reciprocate warmth or an attempt to make a genuine connection, know that it's not their arrogance or indifference that stops them, it's their fear. Connectedness is not for everyone. It's for those who have the strength to survive the darkness of separation and loss; they are the ones who have the best chance of experiencing true connection. Who will likely take the risk of being included, and including others in turn, knowing that they must let go someday.

I am getting better at letting go because I've done a lot of moving on, closing up, walking away, saying bye and letting go over the years, and the more I focus ahead, the sooner life brings back something I thought I had lost forever. Life has a fantastic way of rewarding genuine connection - we never truly lose, we just go on a break. Connectedness comes back in double measure to surprise and hearten us when we least expect it to. Life is a full circle, but for it to come back to us, we must be ready to step into the circle, and for that we must be ready to connect and include. Only the brave do that.

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