All About the Little Things
As humans, I think we can agree that we want to be validated, to be heard, and to belong. In fact, science shows us that human connection is necessary for our survival. We thrive off of talking, laughing, and collaborating with other people. Psychologists have different names for this “need”, including the need for love and belonging (Maslow) or the need for affiliation (McClelland), but they all identify that feeling connected and bonded to other people is essential.
We live in a world of constant motion and distraction that tests our ability to fulfill these needs. It can seem like a big task to stay in touch with family, make time for friends, and meet new people. But, I feel that we often overlook how something simple, like a smile, can foster the kind of connection we desire. Some of the most powerful moments in our lives come from the smallest gestures. A note of encouragement, helping someone to fix a problem, or simply offering a hug can make an impact in the lives of the people who are important to us. We can make equally small changes in our own behavior to help boost all of our social interactions so that they are are more authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling:
Practice active listening
Believe it or not, listening goes a long way in social interactions. There is, however, a difference between listening and active listening. With active listening, the most important things to remember are body language, eye contact, and acknowledgment. When our whole body is present in a conversation, we’re engaged on a different level. I remember approaching one of my high school teachers to ask for help after class. As I spoke, I knew she heard me because of her responses, but it was hard to tell if she was really listening as she moved around the classroom, preparing her lunch, and rearranging the desks. It would have been helpful and encouraging if she could have looked me in the eye, faced her body towards me, and directly acknowledged what I was asking for so that I knew I had her full attention. So often we hear what other people are saying but we experience, or even create, interference that prevents us from actively listening. Even something as simple as thinking about what you are going to say next detracts from our ability to do this really well. Active listening is a communication skill that takes focus and practice. Resist the urge to go through the motions in your conversations – put down your phone, remain present, and demonstrate your interest. I guarantee you’ll see a difference in the quality of your conversations and relationships if you do!
Follow through with your promises
Remember how important a pinky promise was in elementary school? That’s what I think of when I follow through on a promise. If I make plans to get lunch with someone and another friend later asks if I want to hang out on the same day, I’m not going to change my plans and go back on my word. I made a promise, and promises are meant to be kept. If I were to say one thing but do the opposite, that shows lack of accountability, a lack of respect, and a lack of character. It is important to remember that we have people who are counting on us. Following through with a promise is a very easy way to show people that we want to show up for them.
Empathy and sympathy are easily confused with one another. Both demonstrate care for another person, but they come with different levels of emotional involvement. Empathy is being able to relate to someone because two people share similar experiences with similar emotions. Sympathy is demonstrating care and concern for experiences we aren’t so familiar with. For example, if I fail a test that I studied really hard for and I share with a friend who had also failed, we are more likely to be empathetic because we better understand how the other feels. If I fail a test and someone who did well tells me, “I’m sorry, but you’ll get ‘em next time”, that’s more like sympathy. Now, we’ll never be able to relate to every single thing other people go through. But, we can still practice our emotional intelligence and work to put ourselves in other people’s shoes so that we can better understand and support them.
Human connection comes from recognizing the inherent worth and significance of others. When we are listened to, we feel heard. When people show up, we feel important. When we’re shown empathy, we feel understood. All of these make us feel like we are loved and that we belong. And when we feel connected to others we are generous, we are creative, we are motivated, we are influential. Then, we can see that all of those little things can make a really big difference.
To express gratitude and appreciation for different people in the group
*Meet the Author*
Kait is a student at Chapman University. She is finishing up her degree in Integrated Educational Studies and will be moving on to earn her Master’s in Organizational Leadership. When not at school, Kait enjoys going to Disneyland, reading books, and spending time with her friends.