With loneliness on the rise, Susan McPherson has written a book about connecting
During the pandemic, Americans have been experiencing unprecedented levels of loneliness. Now that the world is reopening again, many are excited to take the world by storm, but hesitant about what it will mean to connect with people in-person again.
So, we reached out to Susan McPherson, author of the new book, The Lost Art of Connecting, for some insight. Interestingly enough, McPherson thought of her thesis far before the pandemic began. In the last five years, she’s noticed the isolating impact of social media on people and their relationships — and wanted to give people a roadmap back to fulfilling, lifelong relationships.
Below, McPherson explains the importance of meaningful connections, either personal or professional, and has some advice on making them.
KCM: So, why is connecting a lost art?
Susan McPherson: Let me give you a little background because the book was originally conceived almost four years ago, long before the pandemic. I grew up in a household where my parents were both serial connectors. Every morning at the breakfast table, I would literally vy for space for my bowl of cereal because they would have the five local newspapers spread out. They’d be clipping and cutting articles and then going to their respective manual typewriters and typing, “Thinking of you, cousin Harry, or thinking of you colleague Joan, or thinking of you former student Elizabeth.”
In the last five to 10 years, it became painfully clear to me is that as a society, we were basically measuring the success of our quote unquote connectivity with others by the number of followers, clicks and likes, versus the actual meaningful action and changes and impact that happens when you are really meeting people and building relationships. So the original thesis for the book was: How do we get back to building meaningful connections and not this numbers game of trying to just get as many LinkedIn followers as possible?
What are some of the important benefits of deep, meaningful relationships?
I founded my company at age 48. I’m now 56, and 95% of the business has been inbound. That has been directly tied to all the people I met in my twenties and thirties and forties.
When you’re helpful to others, and you need help in your life, people will come. At some point in time every one is going to need help, support and connections. If anything, this past year, we learned how isolating it can be to have no connections. Seeing our meaningful connections over Zoom, FaceTime and other digital outlets, is what has gotten us through it.
Additionally, what I have found in my life is that I have become more efficient as I’ve made more connections, because it means I don’t have to do the heavy lifting. I actually can refer people to others who may be better suited to help them out.
Could you take us through what you learned in your research by giving us key tips done for people hoping to cultivate more meaningful relationships?
So in the first phase, you actually first ask yourself: What does a meaningful connection mean to you? A meaningful connection to you might be very different than what it is to me. That’s first and foremost, and the next part is you want to think about what type of community you want to build around you. This community is going to help you meet your goals over the next four years, four months, maybe even four weeks. And how are you going to ensure that that community doesn’t just look like you or sound like you?
Then in the next phase, we get into the “ask phase” of building meaningful connections. You learn how to ask others questions so you can find out what’s important to them. Then comes the “do phase.” In this phase, you take what you’ve learned about the person, and follow through and support them.
How’s “connecting” different from traditional networking?
In the book, I make a big delineation between the two. Networking is very transactional. Meaningfully connecting is a reciprocal relationship, and I’m sure you have many relationships in your life that cross over from personal to business. They are the people who show up in good times and bad, but sometimes you can also go years without talking to them.
As we near an end of the pandemic, I know a lot of people have very rusty social skills right now! What advice do you have for anyone who might be really anxious to jump back into the real world to meet new people and connect?
Firstly, it’s good to recognize we’re not going from zero to 100. It’s going to be a slow process. I liken it to riding a bike. When you first get back on it after a season off of it, you likely feel out of practice. But after a few blocks, you usually feel like, “I’ve got this!”
If you’re going to a new gathering, a rule of thumb I have is you should challenge yourself to meet three new people, learn three new things and share three things.
This interview has been edited and condensed.