Is there a magic pill that can deepen your connections with one person or a roomful? Common knowledge would say no. Authors Chip and Dan Heath have a different answer.

In their book, The Power of Moments, they point to research conducted by social psychologist, Harry T. Reis. Reis published a paper called, “Steps Toward the Ripening of Relationship Science.” In his paper, Reis shares what makes some relationships successful and others not.

In a nutshell, he states, “Our relationships are stronger when we perceive that our partners are responsive to us.” This is the Holy Grail. I believe it.

The Heaths write responsiveness looks like this:

  • Understanding: My partner knows how I see myself and what is important to me.
  • Validation: My partner respects who I am and what I want.
  • Caring: My partner takes active and supportive steps in helping me meet my needs.

The Heaths note nonresponsiveness looks like this:

  • My partner doesn’t even notice me when I walk in the door.
  • My partner seems uninterested or dismissive when I share something important.
  • I get a blank face when I need a hug or soothing comment.

One can see how this would corrode a relationship over time. It certainly wouldn’t lead to a fulfilling connection.

To deepen connections, the Heaths state you start with responsiveness and add the secret sauce – openness through intimacy. Here’s what that looks like:

  • You reveal something about yourself and wait to see if the other person responds by sharing something about themselves in a way that invites continued conversation.
  • If that happens, it’s a sign you’ve been heard, understood, and valued by the other person enough for them to disclose something about themselves.

If there is no reciprocity, it freezes the relationship. Hmm . . . the good news is, now that we know, we get to make the choice!

How can you translate this responsiveness process into connecting with your audience as a speaker? Here are my suggestions:

  • Understanding: We take the time to learn how our audience sees the world – its goals, values and culture – and to discover what is important to them.
  • Validation: We customize our speech to address who they are and what they want.
  • Caring: We take active and supportive steps to provide the kind of information, entertainment and inspiration that will meet their needs.

Then we add the secret sauce of openness through intimacy by sharing our own journey as appropriate, being fully present, and interacting with our audience.

To try this out, next time you’re in a meeting, or having lunch with a friend:

  • Share something about yourself and inquire about the other person’s experience with the same.
  • If you don’t get an answer that invites continued conversation, ask another easy question to keep the ball rolling. Often, that’s all it takes.

When speaking:

  • Share something about yourself and then ask your audience, “Has this happened to you? How do you relate?”
  • Wait for someone to raise their hand. This can be tricky as it can involve getting comfortable with a bit of silence.
  • If no one raises their hand, ask again in another way, and wait.

Pretty soon, someone will raise their hand and you’ve accomplished your goal of deepening your connection.

So, is this a magic pill to deepen our connections? I sure feel better when my friend, or my audience, is responsive. What about you?

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