By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK (Reuters) – When it comes to interacting during this pandemic, admit it: We all feel a bit like Tom Hanks in the movie ‘Cast Away’, having conversations with Wilson the volleyball.
And that is okay. But eventually and maybe even right now we can start rebuilding our networks of social connections, which are so important to a happy and fulfilled life.
To find out how, Reuters sat down with Susan McPherson, founder and chief executive officer of McPherson Strategies and author of the new book ‘The Lost Art of Connecting’.
Q: Your book about connecting is coming out at a very unique time, when we are all very disconnected?
A: When I first put forth a proposal for the book, it was about bringing humanity back into our connections. We tend to have an overreliance on technology, using clicks and likes and follows as the currency to determine our relationships.
I felt that was taking us astray, and the goal was to take us back to the human side of things. Then the pandemic happened, and all we had left was technology.
Q: How can people feel connected in this new environment?
A: We are all so tired of looking at screens. I am a big believer in picking up the phone. Or try other means of connecting with people, like going for walks where it’s safe, wearing masks of course.
I believe it’s important to find out the other person’s preferred mode of communication. Don’t assume that people want to be on video, because many don’t.
Q: Most people’s networks have been shrinking during the pandemic. Does that worry you?
A: Go deeper with the individuals you already have relationships with. You can accomplish much more with that, than with wide swaths of thousands of business cards. That really isn’t going to help you or accomplish anything.
Q: You say that a critical networking phrase is ‘How can I help’ why is that?
A: When you are starting a conversation with someone, you engage them much more meaningfully if you get a sense of what’s going on in their lives and what they need, rather than making it all about yourself.
Being supportive of others lends itself to a more interactive conversation. Then follow up on that later, which makes you trustworthy and indispensable.
Q: How do you seed new relationships, so they don’t wither away?
A: Every morning I reach out to three or four people to see how they are no agenda. Then a year or two from now, if I ever need something, I’ll be more comfortable reaching out and asking.
There is a lot of joy there, when you just let people know that you are thinking about them.
Q: How important are local roots?
A: The pandemic has shown how vital it is to have connectivity to your community. Maybe that wasn’t as pressing before — but now when you really need help, or are finding out where to get the vaccine, or want to support local shops and restaurants, this is a great time to get to know your own community.
I don’t think that’s going to go away after the pandemic.
Q: What are your favorite strategies for building a network?
A: I love what I call the 4-4-4 model. When you are thinking about the kind of community you want to build around you, think about what you want to achieve four years from now, then four months, then four weeks. That will help gather in your mind what you want to accomplish, and who you want to surround yourself with. It’s a very intentional model.
Q: People present edited versions of themselves on social media. Is it difficult to be authentic in this environment?
A: I actually think people are becoming more authentic. Everyone is suffering something right now, all at the same time, and never before has that happened.
It’s a good moment to ask people ‘How are you really doing? and not have to fake anything. In normal times, that’s hard. But when life sucks for everybody, it’s okay.
Q: When we come out of this period, will it be weird to interact again?
A: It won’t happen suddenly. We won’t go from zero to 60 on day one. We will probably have smaller, safer gatherings to begin with.
We will get back into it eventually. It’s rare in life to get an opportunity for a total reset — and now we have that.
(Editing by Lauren Young and Aurora Ellis)