Today, we will explore the important role of connection in these uncertain times. We’ll offer some practical tips for knowing when you have had too much, and how to create some personal space without damaging the heart of your connections. As human beings our need to connect with others is buried deep in our DNA. Human connection has the power to deepen meaning, inspire change, and build trust. The importance of connection is why employees rate “the people” among the most important engagement factors; the number one contributor to employee’s satisfaction are colleagues. Gallup reports that people who have friends at work are more satisfied than others. In fact, those who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work. Why is that?
It’s the power of Social Connection. Researchers define social connection as the feeling of belonging to a group and feeling generally close to other people. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that this is a core psychological need essential to feeling satisfied with your life￼ – a sense that you belong.
Brene Brown is a research professor who specializes in social connection. She notes that “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to.”
In the past few weeks most of us began to shelter-in-place. This one action created an avalanche of change in the way we connect and feel connected with one another. Despite decades of folks working in solitude from home, the past few weeks have seen a virtual explosion of ways to create social connection.
One of our favorite images is of Debbie’s grandson, Jeremy, who is 9 years old. At the end of their first week away from one another sheltering-in-place and home-schooling, Jeremy gathered in a Zoom chat room with his three best buddies. You can feel the joy and happiness shining in his eyes as he and his buddies shouted over one another, laughed, and reconnected on screen in much the same way they would have on the playground. A reunion that reconfirmed a place of belonging.
Productivity tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, initially intended to help asynchronous and remote teams work more efficiently and collaboratively, have become new lifelines to social connection. We have all seen the images of Friday happy hours, dinners with friends, and family reunions. FaceTime calls and chats are on the rise, and being used in even the most tender and compassionate of moments as loved ones say farewell to a dying family member. Message boards and chat threads now provide quick pick-me-up moments for sharing a humorous meme or gif, or letting you raise your hand as a signal for help. YouTube is exploding with content shared by creators to help us learn and be entertained. Hungry for connection, people young and old are learning to navigate the technology that helps us stay in relationship with one another.
With shelter-in-place our new reality, concerns and reactions to the idea of social distancing and isolation boomeranged into a proliferation of virtual gatherings and connection, at work and in our personal lives. But what happens when it all becomes too much? When our day-to-day becomes a barrage of notifications, meetings, and connection?
Connecting can be fun and is needed, until it is not! Last week was one of those moments for us. There were numerous video chats with friends near and far. More Zoom chats checking in on family members in other parts of the country. Calls and chats with our kids, FaceTime chats with grandkids, and calls with aging parents. Message threads would explode at any minute with memes and good-natured humor from colleagues, friends, and family alike. On top of it all was the input of information about COVID-19, death rates, and the impact on humanity and the people we love. Oh right, and we were working virtually with one another: each home in our own teeny, tiny spaces with spouses. By the end of the week, we would get on screen and just look at each other. We were pooped! No more words came out; we did not want to talk to anyone else. We just could not take in any more information. We were connected-out! This is important to notice.
The rate, volume, pace, and intensity of connecting are different for us all. Knowing when you need to connect, what you need from that connection, and when you have had enough is important for all of us. Disconnecting is important for your ability to re-charge. Those of us on the Introverted side of things know this all too well.
If social connection is hard wired in each of us to love, be loved, and belong, how can you navigate the need to connect with the need to recharge?
Here are some tips:
- Check in with yourself. You will feel different every day. You will need different things throughout the day. Start each day by asking, “What do you need today?” “Who do you need to connect with?” (Pro tip: it could be no one!) Encourage those in your immediate circle to do the same.
- An important question to ask yourself when connecting is “What is your role here?” When looking at all the various demands on your time, ways you could connect and the various opportunities to do so, consider your role. We tend to jump into things. Learn to step back and ask, “What’s needed here?” “Why are you participating?” “What do you have to offer?”
Decide if you need to connect, and if it is important, become conscious of how you will participate. One evening Debbie was getting on a big Zoom meeting with 20 other people. It had been a tough few days and she was feeling emotionally spent, but knew she would be fueled by hearing how other loved ones were doing. She just wanted to listen and absorb what others were saying, more than contribute. So, she chose to mostly listen. Learn to get underneath what need is being met. Notice when you stand in choice about how you connect with others. You might be growing a new relationship muscle!
- Get clear on your boundaries. Boundaries tame chaos and create a sense of safety for you and for others. One of the downsides to technology is it so easily blurs the lines between work and life. Without clear boundaries, technology can easily overtake you.
You have to be the one to set boundaries around your time and your energy, and you have to be the one to share them with others. Think about what you need. When are you most productive? What helps with your productivity? If early morning exercise helps, let others know that. Make an explicit request that helps reinforce the need. Maybe it’s to start meetings a bit later in the morning; let others know why you are making the request.
Boundaries are not just for work. They help tame some of the tensions that can pop up in any relationship. Consider what you need to be your best given all the demands on your time and energy right now, and establish boundaries with the little and big humans in your life. Don’t forget to check in and see what they need. Boundaries work both ways. Create shared agreements for how you will work together (more about shared agreements in our Creating Safety article). Remember, you are worthy of the love and care others will give you, you just need to let them know what you need. You are worthy of sharing your needs, and so are they. We are in this together.
- Find your release valves! We all need to find what will help us recharge, and do it. For some, it’s exercise or walking the dog. For others it could be reading or binge watching the latest onNetFlix, playing video games, or doing puzzles. Your outlet might be creative. I shove around my furniture, rearrange home décor, paint, cook, garden. This is an opportunity to find new interests and look into that thing you have always wanted to learn. Find your joy. Play to feed and re-fuel your soul.
These are unprecedented times. Being with others helps our need for social connection, and it is equally important to own when you have had enough. Take the time to notice:
- What do you need?
- How are you responding to the needs of others?
- How are you taking care of yourself?
As our time sheltering-in-place extends and the impact of this crisis evolves, keep asking these questions. You are growing as a human being!
Acknowledgements: Our gratitude to Anika Briner and Michelle Zajac for their contributions to this article.