Effective Communication: Connecting in a Group

This week is a continuation of this month’s series on Effective Communication as we journey through John Maxwell’s book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. Our focus this week is on how to grow in your effectiveness and ability to connect with people in a group or meeting. In the chapter, Connecting Goes Beyond Words, Maxwell tells a story about the actor Charles Laughton that illustrates the difference between a merely good speaker and one who really knows what he’s talking about:

It’s said that Laughton was attending a Christmas party with a family in London. During the evening the host asked everyone attending to recite a favorite passage that best represented the spirit of Christmas. When it was Laughton’s turn, he skillfully recited Psalm 23. Everyone applauded his performance, and the process continued.

The last to participate was an adorned elderly aunt who had dozed off in a corner. Someone gently woke her, explained what was going on, and asked her to take part. She thought for a moment and then began in her shaky voice, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” When she finished, everyone was in tears.

When Laughton departed at the end of the evening, a member of the family thanked him for coming and remarked about the different in the response by the family to the two recitations of the psalm. When asked his opinion on the difference, Laughton responded, “I know the psalm; she knows the Shepherd

So how do you increase your effectiveness in connecting with others in a group? I think it begins by asking yourself the following questions...

Who is My Audience?

In order to connect with others in a group, it's important to know as much about them, their motivations, and their values as possible. Here are some key questions to ask as you prepare to connect:

  • Who are they?
  • What do they care about?
  • Where do they come from?
  • When did they decide to attend?
  • Why are they here?
  • What do I have that I can offer them?
  • How do they want to feel when we conclude?
The key to making others feel valued in a group or on a team is to invite participation. The smartest person in the room is never as smart as all the people in the room. Input creates synergy, buy-in, and connecting.
— John Maxwell

How Can I Connect with New People?

What if you are preparing to connect with a group where there are people that you have not met before? In the chapter, “Connecting Always Requires Energy”, Maxwell quotes Susan RoAne’s “Ten Tips from the Mingling Maven” that she used when meeting new people:

  1. Strive to make others feel comfortable.
  2. Appear to be confident and at ease.
  3. Have an ability to laugh at yourself (not at others).
  4. Show interest in others; maintain eye contact, self-disclose, ask questions, and actively listen.
  5. Extend yourself to others; lean into a greeting with a firm handshake.
  6. Convey a sense of energy and enthusiasm.
  7. Are well rounded, well informed, and well-mannered.
  8. Prepare vignettes or stories of actually occurrences that are interesting, humorous, and appropriate.
  9. Introduce people to each other with an infectious enthusiasm (there is no other kind) that motivates conversation between the introducees.
  10. Convey respect and genuinely like people - the core of communicating.

What Do People Want to Know?

Whether you are leading a team, a department, a meeting, or pitching an idea to a customer, it is incredibly important to understand what it is that those you are hoping to connect with are asking of you - the communicator.

In a nutshell, here are six things that the people you are connecting with want to know…

  • That you will go first and lead by example
  • That you will only ask them to do what you have done or are willing to do
  • That you will teach them to do what you have already done
  • That their success is more important to you than your success
  • That they will get credit for their accomplishments
  • That you will celebrate their success
You can connect with others if you’re willing to get off your own agenda, to think about others, and to try to understand who they are and what they want. If you really want to help people, connecting becomes more natural and less mechanical. It goes from being something you merely do to become part of who you really are.
— John Maxwell

How Do I Cultivate a “Common Ground Mindset”?

Availability - “I will chose to spend time with others”

Listening - “I will listen my way to common ground”

Questions - “I will be interested enough in others to ask questions”

Thoughtfulness - “I will think of others and look for ways to thank them”

Openness - “I will let people into my life”

Likability - “I will care about people”

Humility - “I will think of myself less so I can think of others more”

Adaptability - “I will move from my world to theirs”

Am I Looking to Give or Receive?

“If communicators teach out of need, insecurity, ego, or even responsibility, they are not giving. The needy person wants praise, something the audience must give. The insecure person wants approval, something the audience must give. The egotistical person wants to be lifted up, to be superior and just a little bit better than everyone else, something the audience must give. Even the person motivated by responsibility want to be recognized as the faithful worker, to be seen as responsible, something the audience must bestow upon them.

Then there’s the giver. This person teaches out of love, grace, gratitude, compassion, passion, and the overflow. These are all giving modes. In each of these modes of the heart, the audience doesn’t have to give anything - only receive. The teaching, then, becomes a gift. It fills and renews.”

Think back to the last interaction you had where you were communicating with a group. Were you giving - or were you asking them to give to you. Take a moment and look down deep. Is that coming from a need for approval? Possibly a need to be lifted up or to be just a bit better than everyone else? Maybe it’s something different all-together. The first step to increasing your effectiveness as a communicator will be to identify what is keeping you from doing so effectively up until this point. To find this out will require an examination of your heart and motivations.

We the uninformed,
working for the inaccessible,
are doing the impossible
for the ungrateful.
— The Subordinate’s Lament | Jim Lundy

What are My Barriers to Connecting with Others?

Some of you have been waiting for this section because of your past experiences. You may be thinking, “Yeah, great bullet points (and lots of them), but connecting with people is harder than it looks.” My response is - Yep! Lots of bullet points...haha, and connecting with people is challenging, incredibly frustrating at times, requires an inordinate amount of energy, and...if you are not willing to invest in connecting with people, you will never reach your full potential as a leader or in your relationships with people. Period.

So what are some barriers to connecting with others? Here are a few to think about:

  1. Assumptions: “I already know what others know, feel, and want”
  2. Arrogance: “I don’t need to know what others know, feel, or want”
  3. Indifference: “I don’t care to know what others know, feel, or want”
  4. Control: “I don’t want others to know what I know, feel, or want”

Moving Forward

As you look ahead to your calendar for the remainder of this month, where are your opportunities to connect with others in a more genuine and dynamic way? Maybe as you have been reading this, the wheels have been churning already of the opportunities that lie ahead of you - some of them being low-hanging fruit, while others are going to require additional effort, energy, and intentionality.

Here’s something for you to reflect on after your next meeting with a group of people. I want to challenge you to utilize Simmons Values as a Checklist for Connecting with Others. Ask yourself these questions in relationship to our Values: