For the past few years I have been studying the topic of Human Connection and speaking on it to organisations around the world. I am currently preparing to write the book and as such have started putting fingers to keypad about this subject beyond my keynote speech.
I have interviewed almost 100 Human Connection paradigms, read countless books, did a Communications and Cultural Studies degree at University, constantly had to connect with people on air, on stage and in person as part of my previous job as a radio host but most vital to my research has been the way I have lived.
Since 2002, I have studied in Switzerland and worked in Australia, Dubai and Singapore. Each time I moved to a new place, there was disconnection and lonliness being on my own in a new place, then I would naturally do certain things to meet people, gain friends and basically become connected to that new community. I did this over and over again with each back and forth move. Pivoting between the culture of these countries untapped some basic truths about how we connect as humans and it is the findings from that and my studies that I am going to start sharing from today forward.
Why are you so passionate about driving Human Connection this movement?
There are so many reasons why Human Connection has hijacked my life but I guess it makes sense to begin at the beginning. I was feeling extremely disconnected at a workplace I was working at. I realised, looking around, that the general shame and fear which was causing this disconnection was resulting in low productivity and was compromising content standards. How could employees who were disconnected themselves produce content that connected with others? It was a huge corporate blind spot.
One night while I was on air doing my late night radio show a young, Singaporean girl sent a voice note into the show. I had asked people to whatsapp voicenote into the radio station to win tickets to a superhero movie. I asked listeners “If you could have any superhero power in the world, what would it be and why?”
She replied: “to be able to relate to people. It’s not an extraordinary superpower but I feel in modern day everyone is really cold to one another. I really want to be able to connect to another person, one-to-one”. I saved the voice note and it plagued me.
How had it come to this? How had authentic human connection, something we are biologically built for, how was this now considered a super power? What was happening to us humanity? Was all I could think.
The last factor that made me so passionate about learning more about the topic, was that my mother has a rare degenerative illness. Around the time I got that voice note, she had just begun to forget that my father passed away from cancer in 2004, she had already forgotten the days of the week and times of the day and I was petrified she would forget who I was. All of a sudden, the person who was supposed to connect with me the best in the whole world, the person who gave birth to me, was having blocks connecting to me.
It took this incident to make me feel the same yearning for human connection as the young woman who has sent me that voice note on air. I knew, in that moment, this was a subject that needed to be studied by as many of us as possible and at a speed which could keep up with digital developments. I quit my job. That was it for me and the message and its intention has propelled me ever since.
Why is Human Connection more important than ever in the digital world?
Human Connection is the most important skill in the workplace today and as we approach the fourth industrial revolution it will determine our survival. Artificial Intelligence will threaten our very identity as humans, with machines being able to learn and communicate with increasing sophistication.
It is also no secret that our world is becoming more and more fractured. Polarisation in politics and extremism now pull us wider apart with more ferocity then ever. The digital transformation we are seeing in businesses is now coupled with our own personal use of devices, further threatening our already weakening social skills. These devices which were born to connect us are now often disconnecting us. The apps we use fragment our attention spans and keep us looped for validation, taking us away from the real world connection that we are wired physiologically to need.
Now it is at this point that I want to say, I am not villanising mobile phone devices, I truly believe as someone who has lived far from her immediate family for almost two decades, that we can use technology to aid connection. I am so grateful to have my phone to video chat my mother in Australia. I am so grateful I have a device on me to video our moments together when I visit and I get to keep these moments of her literally in my pocket. But in order to maintain the strong, authentic human connections we require as human beings to be happy, we need to place healthy boundaries on our usage of apps and devices.
One simple fact about our reality today remains however, we have to work harder to create moments in which we connect face-to-face with other human beings.
Why does connection and compassion get lost and how can businesses, individuals help grow and develop this?
Disconnection occurs in few ways. From my research and the people I have studied, one major theme is that a lack of connection with yourself hinders connection with others. Knowing what you feel and why you feel it, when you feel it, as an example. It’s not until we get connected with our gut, our authentic-needs and our true sense of self that we can better connect with others. So the real work on all connection with other humans actually needs to start with building a resilient and authentic relationship with yourself and doing the self-work. We live in a very outward-looking world, where people chase their identity by factors they cannot control but most of the foundational work for great connections with others needs to start within.
Compassion is lost when we see other people as separate from ourselves. They go from “us” to “them”. Any time you hear that sort of language in the discourse, cracks will start to appear in an organisation. A great example of this is what we are seeing now with the Coronavirus outbreak. As China is blamed for the outbreak of the disease, compassion drains away leaving blame and shame in its wake. The humanity of the individuals suffering in that country from the disease is lost in the racist rhetoric. Speaking plainly, if the virus does not discriminate, why are we discriminating? The very fact that it infects every human in the same way points to the simple truth that we all really are one.
I think in businesses, leaders need to understand that disclosure and allowing disclosure aids connection. If people can see their leaders being vulnerable, it obliterates fear and likewise gives them permission to be themselves with their managers. We need to be allowed to bring more of our real selves to work and not fear retribution for it and this starts with leaders at organisations doing the same. Nothing connects like knowing your are not alone in being flawed.
On another note, connection is always found in how we communicate. We abolish separatism when we speak to people, even strangers, about our commonalities and not our differences. Commonalities connect.
Being persistent in forging a connection with another person, even persistence in fighting for a face-to-face group meeting can help foster connection in the culture too.
Why is human connection the most underrated tool in the business world and what kinds of brands / industries are calling on you for you keynotes?
Organisations are realising that connection is the only way to heal the deep divisions showing up in every workplace. In short, the importance of Human Connection is starting to be seen. I speak globally and within multinational corporations there is always an intersection of various cultures where disconnection can become an issue. International organisations have simply realised, in order to mobilise a workplace to function efficiently, creating connection in the culture from the ground up is really important. In short, cohesion amongst employees just makes everything faster. My speech literally shares key communication pillars that employees can implement immediately to connect better.
By far the industry which has had me speak the most is the health insurance industry. Representatives need to be reaching out constantly to bring in new customers. I always say that they need to be looking at new customers as “people not prospects,” this idea of seeing people with compassion is integral to Human Connection. Other industries include the global accountancy association, the fertiliser industry and the health supplements industry. I think you can see by how disaparate these industries are that Human Connection is a subject that really applies to every human on the planet. We could all do it better, I can do it better, I try every day. All of humanity is on the human connection journey together.