Individual aspiration and achievement orientation are being embraced and celebrated by most of our societies, even those that are known for their collectivist orientation. Technology might have brought us closer than ever before. But, aren't we also witnessing a simultaneous re-formatting of social support systems? Changing work-cultures, massive migration, urban stress, spiraling disenchantments of various hues, violence, lifestyle diseases... there are enough indicators that point to an unsettled equilibrium.
Sociologists (both real and migratory kinds) have advised us that the "breakdown of traditional social structures" is at the root of it. No doubt, it's good to have terminology and nomenclature that gives a certain sense of direction. But isn't there a danger with reductionist name-calling and labeling, especially with over-use? We might imagine that we understand and know what's at work here. After all "breakdown of traditional social structures" has a seemingly intellectual ring to it, is somewhat de-personalized, sounds like some natural calamity that just happened, and so we can all hope that some "nanny state" will fix it for us! While we wait for the doddering "nanny state" to get its act together and also avoid over-reach of the zillionth kind, is there something folks like you and me can do?
What can we do to strengthen our social support structures that don't look particularly robust at this point in time?
The answer (to a significant extent) lies in nurturing what I like to call "Higher Order Convergence". It of course requires certain skills, attitudes and strategies. The good news is that at least some part of it is simple enough so you can start right away. In this article we'll look at how we can enhance the quality of our people engagement skills, connect meaningfully with others, and thereby develop a strong social support system. I had briefly touched upon this in my article on Resilience. A healthy and vibrant social support system is extremely critical to keep your resilience levels up. This article takes that message forward.
Connecting at the CORE being level
What is the quality of connection that you are seeking with significant folks in your social network (not facebook!)? Higher order convergence requires that we start relating to others (at least a few selected ones to begin with) at some or most of the following levels: purpose, values, beliefs, strengths, talents, potential, dreams, aspirations. Together, they constitute the core of our being, the fuel that powers our quest for fulfillment and even self-realization.
No doubt, with some people you may experience this level of inter-connectedness by default and without much strain, and that is great of course. Now, spend some time to scan your network of folks you think will lift your 3 AM calls. With how many of them do you see a close alignment in terms of purpose in life, of a higher ideal that inspires you from deep within, no matter what's happening in your life at the moment?
What are the common values that make an association feel so natural to you? That draws them towards you, and vice versa. What are their dreams and aspirations that's got you fired up as well? How do you relate to their special strengths and talents? Do some of these complement your capabilities and skills? Wow... that's a lot of homework and thinking indeed.
To begin with, bring to your mind the three most important folks in your network as of now. Find out details about their life's purpose, their core values and beliefs, their strengths, capabilities, ideals, aspirations and dreams. Just getting the awareness itself can be a great start. There's so much more depth that you can bring into your conversations with this understanding. As you keep further mining this information, it can also open up possibilities for greater engagement. Wouldn't there be some way in which you can contribute or provide a helping hand? Maybe connect them to someone who can help further?
Now, as you look at your own purpose, are there new people who can be brought in to your network in the near future? What needs to change, so that you can get some solid support? The stakes are pretty high, and it makes eminent sense to have this core level synchronization established.
Habits to Nurture the Higher Order Convergence
Now, let's look at some of the habits that can help us sustain and nurture the higher order convergence that we have established.
There is no shortcut actually to spending quality time with people in order to develop a higher order convergence. Make time-boxes for important folks in your network, even if your schedules are too hectic. No, retweets and favoriting or likes and shares on social media don't make the cut! We’re talking plain vanilla one-one communication (phone or video calls are okay if face-face isn’t possible).
To start with, can you keep aside 30 mins a week to stay in touch with the three most important folks in your network? That works out to a mere 10 mins per person! Start with 10 and slowly increase the duration. If you've done a good job connecting at the core level, it won't be that tough.
Understanding, Listening & Empathy
How do you move beyond tick-boxing, and ensure that you and the folks in your network excitedly look forward to every interaction, even if it is as short as 10 minutes, or may be much longer? Good ol' Empathy and Understanding can certainly help.
Here’s a SECRET tip: Reduce your transmission and opt for increased reception of signals! Listening without hidden agendas can be a great start. This will also help you gain more insights into their journey, as they pursue their dreams. Later, you might want to reflect and connect the dots with your own journey. The process can be quite rewarding when you eschew the drive to look perfect, and don't hesitate to occasionally look at things from their perspective too. Try out their "glasses", and see if you too can see what they're seeing.
Don't worry; This isn't a one-way traffic. As you display sincere eagerness to understand, listen and empathize, you can rest assured that it will be reciprocated. Imagine how beneficial it can be to have someone hear you out patiently, and that too, without snap judgements? As they seek clarifications from you, you're also amazed at what you learn, by listening to your own words and voice! That's when you realize that higher order convergence indeed has the potential to transform your life.
Openness & Disclosure
Your typical sanitized and corporatized language doesn't achieve much by way of convergence, forget higher order! The language of engagement needs both the dissonance and consonance of authenticity. A measured willingness to be open about your vulnerable side, your concerns, and fears signals openness, and fosters trust. Without the latter, you can keep preening and pretending about convergence, and achieve precious little. Of course, it takes a lot of courage and oodles of encouragement. Others will play ball too!
Live Wires, Hot Buttons and the hidden mines!
While authenticity is indeed great in convergence, don't overdo it in a brusque manner. We all have our live wires and hot buttons. Develop an understanding of triggers that can tick them off. Misplaced candor, sarcasm, nit-picking, obsessive scrutinizing, biases, prejudices, unwillingness to let go of control, one-upmanship, magnifying mistakes and misdemeanors… There are many ways in which you can create unbelievable levels of hostility!
Make sure that you don't step over the mines mindlessly! It is human to err, and to go a bit wayward occasionally. Just remind yourself about the core level connection that you share with your fellow network comrades! That'll help you stay focused, and avoid getting side tracked in pointless disagreements and useless arguments.
Use the common sense filter a bit more often! Intuition and gut feel are good inputs. But, keep looking for data, information to validate these. Intentionally train your mind to develop a wider perspective about them. Be open to challenge your own assumptions and beliefs about the person. You may or may not be right. Just be open to both possibilities!
Strengthen your core identity & being
Most sorted people want to connect with others who can inspire them in one way or the other. Don't get intimidated thinking this is only for those extraordinarily gifted prodigies! The trick is to allow your big strengths and special talents to blossom and make you stand out. Integrate these as rituals in your daily life, and very soon the change will be noticeable. It maybe your time management skills, or your commitment to a fitness routine. It could be your skills with powerpoint presentations or spreadsheets. People soon "sense" a certain magnetic appeal that makes them gravitate towards you.
We don't live in an ideal world. Self-interest is the most abiding interest of all! Sometimes, you've got to create specific and explicit incentives to foster collaboration in a spirit of give and take. So, if you want someone to spare their ten minutes for you, make sure they see and appreciate the benefits. This is especially true in professional relationships. Not that you want to get obsessed about it and appear as superficially transactional. Make the take-away worth it. That's all.
A secret tip!: Everyone likes it when their vital interests are safeguarded. A takeaway that help them connect to their true potential also works. See if you can design the incentives accordingly.
So, it is obvious that Higher Order Convergence has the potential to transform the very experience of life and the pursuit of fulfillment. It is important to anchor the connectivity at a core level with key members in your network. Expand the network to bring in people who can take you to the next level. Keep returning the favour. It works most of the time. And above all, it’ll be great fun too!
So, let us get together and keep winning!