Why is it that some of us are master connectors, while others just communicate?
In July of 1979, our family friend Mamie came to visit. She turned her green Renault into our crackly gravel driveway and beeped the horn as she drove down the hill. My brother Markus and I jumped off the swings and ran to greet her.
We loved it when Mamie dropped by. She was full of hugs and stories about her latest adventures. She had driven across Canada alone in that little green hatchback. There were curtains on elasticated cords that she could draw when she slept on the side of the motorway. She pulled out a big foldable piece of cardboard that blacked-out the windscreen. The coolest thing was the teeny coffee maker that plugged into her cigarette lighter. All three of us sat in her cozy little car, curtains drawn, pretending to be on a road trip.
Later she held our faces in her hands and said, ‘It is SO good to see you. Now tell me all your news.’ She sat cross-legged with us on the cream shag carpet and listened deeply, as if our stories were the most interesting thing in the world.
I remember her asking, ‘What do you think about that, Mandy?’ Her head tilted to the side as she waited for my answer. Then she shared her own opinion.
It didn’t occur to me at the time that Mamie was a master connector. I was eight. But now, at 50, I appreciate that this is how true connection works. It’s seamless. You don’t even notice it happening. You just feel warm and glowy and valued.
Communication is an exchange of information, but it can leave us feeling empty. Real connection is an exchange of humanity. It’s an art. It can leave us feeling full and uplifted. This is what Mamie understood.
Years later after Mamie’s death, my mother told me that Mamie had raised her kids on her own. Her husband had left when their boys were very young. One son was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor as a teenager. Mamie was also born with one leg that was six inches shorter than the other. She walked with a disjointed grace. Mamie would have had plenty of reasons to withdraw into victimhood and bitterness.
But what would it prove to stay bitter? Would it prove that life is crummy?
There would have been payoffs to blaming a no-good husband and a no-good hand dealt by life. Mamie could have been the recipient of sympathy. She could have been a victim, someone whose story centered on ‘look what has happened to me.’
Mamie had a simple, but profound philosophy: I create my reality. I am responsible for my energy.
She knew that beyond the smaller self is a greater self.
You don’t need to have known Mamie to comprehend the difference between the stories she could have played out: the poor, sad little woman with a hard life and a short leg; or the adventurer who chose to connect lovingly with others. Feel the energy of each of those stories. Which one feels better? More connected?
Here are three things that Mamie did so masterfully:
Deep Listening + Sharing: People love to talk – ever notice that? But even more than we love to talk, we love to be heard. It’s gratifying. Listening deeply, putting your own stories on pause temporarily, can transform a conversation into a connection. But it’s not just listening to someone’s download. A monologue is a one-person ping pong game (that’s shorthand for no fun). Listen deeply, and share back.
Ask People’s Opinion: Say we’re talking. When I ask your opinion, I open a new, deeper possibility in our conversation: that your experience, or way of thinking, has something to teach me. We don’t need to agree. But asking someone’s opinion, when it’s done sincerely, sends the message, ‘I’m interested in how you see the world.’ And that just feels so darn good. It’s like a tea-cozy on a conversation.
Connect from your Greater Self: Being a great connector isn’t about hiding the sucky stuff going on in your life. In most conversations, it’s the real you we want. Honest. That doesn’t mean bringing a train wreck into every discussion. It’s about choosing how you identify with the sucky things that are going on for you. Because when you connect with your greater self, you frame your thoughts, deeds and words differently. When you do that, you might just inspire us to do the same. Everybody wins.