By: Wendy Mattner
October 29th, 2021
Positive relationships and connection are necessary for healthy human development and are critical ingredients in growth. Everyone communicates, but GOOD communication is all about connecting. John Maxwell reminds us that "connecting is something that anyone can learn to do, but one must study communication to improve at it."1
Everyone communicates, but GOOD communication is all about connecting.
As we all step out of the isolation that has been pushed upon us by the pandemic, we are confronted by a bit of fear and social anxiety. Will I be able to not just communicate, but to connect with others? Have I forgotten how? Will people like and accept me if I move toward them?
What exactly are we talking about when we speak of connection? According to John Maxwell, connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate with them in a way that increases your influence with them. If you connect with others, your relationships are stronger, and your sense of community improves.2
It’s a common misconception that certain people are born with the ability to connect. No, sorry to say, you can't depend on genetics or dumb luck to be a better communicator. The truth is that anyone can learn how to make every communication an opportunity for a powerful connection. You just have to get busy, cultivating and making the most of whatever skills and expertise that you have been given.
The truth is that anyone can learn how to make every communication an opportunity for a powerful connection.
Let's start by adding tools to our "connecting toolbelt." "Coaching" us toward better relational connection, this acrostic will be our guide toward 5 strategies of connection. The beauty of the acrostic is that it will, hopefully, help us to remember the strategies.
"COACH" stands for:
Skill #1 Care about and focus on others.
God made each one of us. Every individual has been made in the image of God and is loved by the creator. Likewise, we need to love and care for others. Romans 13:9 says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
The old adage that says "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" is true. You gain huge strides in credibility with people when you forget about yourself and put the spotlight on others. When you touch the heart of others, you actually show them that you genuinely want to care for them.
You gain huge strides in credibility with people when you forget about yourself and put the spotlight on others.
You can begin to set the stage for caring for others by some very simple and seemingly obvious actions such as greeting people by name and creating eye contact. As you interact with others, find common ground to meet them on; common interests, experiences or values to chat about. Appropriate and loving responses make others feel heard and valued. And, most importantly, remember the conversation so you can follow-up and ask about those details the next time you meet!
Skill #2 Observe others
Take it one step further and care enough to observe others. Notice what people are saying to you AND what they're not saying by "reading between the lines." Notice the non-verbal ways that they are communicating with their body language. In true Sherlock Holmes fashion, try to discover what others know, feel, want and need. God has put you right where you are “for such a time as this!” Those who care, look deeply into the heart through observation.
Skill #3 Act ("move in" on) others
Connection goes beyond words and requires action. It takes a lot of energy...but real connection requires a lot of effort. Once we have gathered our observations, we need to act. Even though it may seem like the person wants to be left alone, we "move in." We share our observations with them, along with the concerns that the observations have raised. Then, we make a simple offer; "I'm here for you if you need me or want to talk about it."
Skill #4 Communicate with others
Communication with others is key. We begin to make interpretations based on the things that we observe, but there is no way that we can assume that our interpretations are correct! We have to communicate and ask questions like, "I noticed this about you, but I don't want to assume that I know what's going on. Can you help me understand?" This is a simple, yet powerful, offer! It implies that I am willing to go through the process with you. I am here to listen. I will help you dig deep. I will go the journey with you even though it might be hard and arduous. I will be honest with you. You will be known and loved unconditionally and without judgment.
We begin to make interpretations based on the things that we observe, but there is no way that we can assume that our interpretations are correct!
As the door of communication cracks opened, be ready to take the time to listen! Be present, attentive and use “active listening” skills. Listening is different than hearing. When someone is speaking, come front and center to listen. It shows them that their voice matters, their needs matter, and they matter.
Skill #5 Help others
Connection increases our opportunity to minister to others. As our loved one opens up, becomes vulnerable, and shares honestly from their heart, it allows us to be open and honest with them as well. In the safety of this space, we are able help, inspire, challenge and/or redirect others as our influence with them increases.
The following is a story that beautifully illustrates the value and power of relational connection.
Heather, in a moment of transparency, shared a difficult part of her journey. She had a wonderful life; she was married, had a family, and was passionate about her calling and career as an educator. Then, in an instant, everything changed. She found out that (unbeknownst to her) her husband, the father of her child, had another life somewhere…along with another family! As you can imagine, her world came tumbling down. She was devastated! Heather shared that she was depressed and in a very dark and lonely place. She continued to go to school every day and tried her best to forget her sorrows by keeping herself busy. But when she returned to the solace of her bedroom at night, she would fall apart. She would melt into a puddle on the floor and weep.
It was in this very difficult time that Heather’s hero, Monica (the teacher in the classroom right next door) looked beyond Heather's forced smile and noticed her sad eyes. Monica then acted and "moved in" on Heather. She went into Heather's classroom after school one day, and confronted Heather with her observations. She astutely asked, "How long are you going to play this game, Heather? How long are you going to put on your game face every day and pretend that everything is OK when it's really not?" Monica told Heather that she was available if she wanted to talk about it...and then she left. Heather was given a choice; she could stay isolated and alone to try to work it out by herself, or she could respond by moving toward her friend and her offer of help.3
Before that question from a trusted friend, who cared enough to ask, Heather had not told her story to anyone! She was alone in her pain trying valiantly to carry on with her life. But it wasn't until Heather decided to open herself up and share her story with Monica that she began to emerge from her darkness. Know this; when you are connecting, you are offering the gift of help and healing.
Let's go back to the story in I Kings 18 & 19, and watch as God connects with Elijah:
God cared enough to see Elijah in his despondency and, before doing anything else, met Elijah's obvious physical needs. Knowing that God cared for him and met his needs, created safety within the relationship.
Know this; when you are connecting, you are offering the gift of help and healing.
God observed Elijah in his isolation. God saw that Elijah was in survival mode and running away from Jezebel's threat to kill him. He noticed that Elijah was not even able to offer up a prayer for help or trust the Lord for his safety even after all of the great God- honoring experiences that they had been through together. God saw that Elijah just wanted to be alone and die.
God acted and "moved in" on Elijah. God manifested himself to the prophet through the wind, the earthquake and the fire. He passed by thus reminding Elijah exactly who he was, and of his power and greatness. But then came the gentle whisper that drew Elijah to the mouth of the cave...Elijah's heart was finally primed and ready to hear from God.
Then, when Elijah responded to God and moved toward him, God communicated with Elijah and asked, "What are you doing here, Elijah? This question opened up the conversation at a deeper level. Elijah opened his heart and allowed himself to be vulnerable with God and to verbalize his thoughts and feelings.
God helped by responding to each of Elijah's distorted thoughts and bringing it back into alignment with the truth. The result was healing! God challenged Elijah and helped him recalibrate his thinking and get him back on his feet and back into ministry.
God connected with Elijah and restored him with his renewing presence, and God will do no less for us. We are called to commune with our God and engage with our heavenly father who cares for us deeply and ministers personally to our hearts. After we have experienced that kind of love, we can do no less than offer the same to others through relational connection.
God connected with Elijah and restored him with his renewing presence, and God will do no less for us.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39).
Maxwell, J. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: The Law of Connection 1998
Maxwell, J. Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, 2010
The names used in this scenario are false names to protect the people’s anonymity